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County responds to courthouse access complaints

The winding ramp at the downtown Chaves County Courthouse has presented problems to many people. The wheelchair lift has been locked shut since late 2015. The county does plan to build a handicapped accessible elevator and has received some state funding for the project. Until that project is completed, a county manager said people can call for assistance into the building. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A county manager said that a problem with a malfunctioning automatic door opener button at the top of the Chaves County Courthouse ramp has been fixed following a Thursday complaint.

“I was not aware that it wasn’t working,” said Bill Williams, public services director. “Once we knew about the problem, facility maintenance was called and it was fixed by 9 a.m.”

A woman posted a video to social media this week showing her difficulties pushing her wheelchair-bound brother up the curving — and what many call steep — ramp at the downtown courthouse, which has its public entrance facing North Virginia Avenue. Once at the top of the ramp, she encountered the malfunctioning door button.

A wheelchair lift installed about 2005 as an alternative to the ramp and the 22 stairs to the front doors no longer works. It was locked shut in about 2015 because, according to county officials, it presented a possible danger. Both the top and bottom doors could sometimes be opened at the same time, meaning there was a chance that people could fall in to an empty shaft.

Rather than replacing or repairing the lift, the county then decided to focus its efforts on obtaining money to build a handicapped accessible elevator, which is the option the county preferred during the 2005 renovations. But, Williams has said, the state required the ramp, and the county could not afford both. The county has since been required to alter the ramp slope in certain spots to bring it into compliance with the requirements of Americans with Disabilities Act after official complaints were made.

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The county received $238,000 in state appropriations in March for the new elevator, estimated to cost about $500,000. It also has applied for a federal Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for additional funding. Preliminary designs already have been done on the elevator, which will be located near handicapped parking spaces in a lot facing East Fourth Street.

Williams said that people encountering any difficulties with county properties can contact Facilities Maintenance at 575-624-6625. He also noted that the wheelchair lift has a sign on it providing a phone number to Court Services personnel, who will help provide entry to the courthouse to those in wheelchairs or who are otherwise having difficulty with the stairs or ramp.