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MCHS may hit stop button on elevator plan

Installing ramps among district's other options

Steve Lutz, buildings and grounds director for Morris Community High School, demonstrates how one of the current chair lifts works at the school.
Steve Lutz, buildings and grounds director for Morris Community High School, demonstrates how one of the current chair lifts works at the school.

Morris Community High School's Building Committee is suggesting the full school board abandon the elevator project for now and look into other options.

The committee met Monday to discuss what to do regarding a proposed elevator project now that bids came in more than double the price expected. When the board reviewed the bids earlier this month, it expected the project to cost about $334,000. Bids came in ranging from $653,754 to $803,000.

The board then decided to send the project back to committee for further discussion.

George Reigle of GreenAssociates, who discussed the situation to the full board previously, explained again to the committee there was not a part of the project that could be changed to cut the price by $200,000 to $300,000.

"We don't have this kind of thing happen very often and we certainly regret it," Reigle said.

He said there wasn't one reason for the bids coming in so much higher than expected, but having to excavate so close to the building contributed.

It is expected the full school board will reject the bids at its March 12 meeting. In the meantime, the district is looking at other options: putting in three new lifts or constructing ramps for two of the staircases and one lift.

Stephen Lutz, building and grounds director, obtained preliminary estimates for three new lifts for the school. Estimates for all three lifts ranged from about $77,800 to $104,600. The lifts would be replaced and upgraded.

When an elevator was first proposed, it was because it could handle more weight than the lift systems. But when Lutz went back to the lift companies, a higher weight capacity has since become available.

The school has one particular student who uses a wheelchair that exceeds the weight limit of its lifts. The weight of his chair alone is 400 pounds, Lutz said, in addition to his weight of about 120, so the system has to be able to move at least 520 pounds.

One of the companies Lutz received estimates from provides lifts that are capable of moving 660 pounds.

Currently, the student has to switch wheelchairs for one of his classes because the lift cannot handle the weight of his chair. His parents told the full board Feb. 13 the other wheelchair does not provide him as much comfort as his personal one.

Board member John Maddox suggested the district look into adding ramps to the staircases. Narvick Brothers Lumber Co. provided Maddox with a preliminary plan on how ramps could be put in for two of the staircases. The main staircase to the cafeteria is too steep for a ramp and will have a lift no matter what.

"The thing I like about ramps is a ramp is there forever. It doesn't have to be checked," Maddox said. He added that students on crutches can use a ramp as well.

The committee did not have a price estimate for the ramps.

The lifts have to be checked multiple times a year for cleaning and maintenance, which costs about $1,500 annually, Lutz said. He added the longevity of the current ramps has been good. Two of them were installed in 1988 and have not been replaced, the only issue is the weight limit.

"It just doesn't seem practical with the space we have," Lutz said. He said ramps require a large amount of space and landings every 30 feet.

Narvick Brothers said it could be done, Maddox said, but about 40 lockers would have to be removed for installation of one of the ramps. The school does have some unused lockers, but the majority are used, Lutz said.

Superintendent Dr. Pat Halloran said it would be a matter of weighing the cost savings of a ramp versus losing the lockers.

District officials are going to investigate the ramp and lift options more and may do a tour with the board of the lift areas.

The possibility of an elevator at Morris High School in the future has not been eliminated. The board will review its capital improvements list and consider the possibility in future planning, Halloran said.

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