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County seeks bidders for elevator project

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Chaves County staff are planning for the courthouse to have an elevator by fall 2020. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Chaves County is ready to move forward with its project to build an elevator for the downtown Chaves County courthouse, having issued a request for bids for engineering design services.

That will be welcome news to some courthouse visitors, who have talked publicly in the past about how difficult it is to use either the 22 stairs or the winding and steep ramp to the public entrance on North Virginia Avenue.

“I am very excited that this project is coming into place, that we can begin at least the design and subsequently the construction,” said Bill Williams, Chaves County Public Services director. “I’ve lived here and grown up here and know that people have had an issue with that ramp for a long time. I am glad that we are getting ready to address it. It won’t be a patch or a Band-aid. It will be a full-blown solution and a good one that will make our courthouse easy to access.”

The county has issued a Request for Proposals for engineering services due March 19, with a bidders’ conference meeting March 4.

Some local engineering firms have been notified, advertisements in papers went out in Roswell and Albuquerque, and the information was placed on a national website, according to county staff.

The engineering services are expected to cost somewhere around 12 percent of the total project cost of $496,000 with best bid, rather than lowest bid, accepted.

Williams said that the county decided to go with stringent federal guidelines for the bid procedures, given that it has received a $238,528 Community Development Block Grant program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The remaining funds, $256,800, came from the state capital outlay.

“I would like to thank our local legislators for recognizing our need and finding a way to make it happen,” Williams said.

Engineering work is expected to occur from about May to November, with a construction contractor due to be selected by March 2020. Actual construction is expected to occur from May to October 2020.

“Of course, all of this is flexible,” said Williams. “It could be a little bit earlier or later” than these timelines.

The elevator will be equipped to serve those with handicaps as well as hold several other passengers at a time. It will be built near the handicap parking spaces on the southeast side of the courthouse building near Fourth Street.

Williams said the plans for the elevator have cleared environmental impact studies and been approved by the State Historic Preservation Office.

The courthouse was built in 1911 and now houses magistrate and district courts, the District Attorney’s office and some county program offices. In about 2005, it underwent a $15 million renovation, with the county wanting, at that time, to build an elevator. But, according to county officials, the state said a ramp was required, a decision that is still debated. Because the county could not afford both, it built a ramp and also installed a wheelchair lift. But the lift has been shut down for a few years because it has not been deemed safe by county staff.

That left some people struggling to either climb the stairs, take the ramp or wait for Chaves County Sheriff’s staff to assist them.

The elevator project has been one of the county’s top capital priorities for several years.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.