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MCHS grounds elevator plan, opts to upgrade lifts

Option will save money, but some consider to be 'temporary' solution

Morris Community High School's board is opting to pursue a less costly option of upgrading its lift systems instead of installing an elevator at the high school.
Morris Community High School's board is opting to pursue a less costly option of upgrading its lift systems instead of installing an elevator at the high school.

The Morris Community High School board officially halted its elevator project and decided to look further into upgrading its lift systems, an option that will potentially save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At its regular meeting Monday, the board unanimously approved rejecting the bids for the elevator project and then approved seeking bids for a new lift system.

When bids came in more than double the expected price for the elevator project, the district decided to take another look at its options. The elevator project was expected to cost about $334,000. Bids ranged from $653,754 to $803,000.

When an elevator was first proposed, it was because it could handle more weight than the lift systems. The lift companies are now able to accommodate a higher weight capacity.

Preliminary estimates show all three of the school's lifts could be upgraded for a total of $77,833. Plus, the district could get a grant reimbursing it for almost $39,000 of the cost.

The school has one particular student who uses a wheelchair that exceeds the weight limit of its current lifts. The weight of his chair alone is 400 pounds, 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 the Building Committee received estimates from provides lifts capable of moving 660 pounds.

At a recent Building Committee meeting, the district decided to look at two options: putting in three new lifts or constructing ramps for two of the staircases and one lift.

Board member John Maddox pushed for the ramps again at the full board meeting.

"I like ramps because you put them in and you're done forever," he said.

With the lifts, Maddox says there is ongoing maintenance, and they also require someone to turn them on in order to run.

"If you have three or four people in wheelchairs who need to get down, you're taking that whole side of the staircase (for a long amount of time)," Maddox said.

Stephen Lutz, building and grounds director, said students are able to walk along the staircase now with the lift running. They have had multiple students in need of the lifts at a time and have not had any issues, he said.

He also pointed out that by constructing ramps, the school would have to lose about 50 lockers.

"Fifty lockers is nothing, we have 1,250 lockers," Maddox said.

Lutz said some of the schools lockers are out of commission.

Superintendent Dr. Pat Halloran added the ramps are more expensive to construct, with estimates at more than $100,000 for two ramps, compared to under $78,000 for three lift upgrades.

The main staircase in the high school has to have a lift because a ramp is not feasible there.

George Reigle of GreenAssociates told the board that putting in ramps would be more involved because they are permanent structures. For the south corridor, the school would lose the concession room if it put in a ramp. In the west corridor, where the lockers would have to be removed, the ceiling would also have to be raised.

Board member Jim Paulson said he did not feel the need for an elevator was going to go away. The district just cannot afford it right now, he said. Therefore, the solution should be a temporary one, like the lifts, rather than a permanent one, like the ramps.

"I think an elevator would still be money well spent. It's just a matter of now or five to 10 years from now," he said. "I don't think the need will change."

Although the lift system upgrades are estimated at almost $78,000, the district could be eligible for a grant to get reimbursed for $38,916.50 of the cost.

On March 1, the state announced a School Maintenance Project Grant that is a 50-50 matching program up to $50,000 that schools can apply for, Halloran said. Through it, the district could not only offset the lift project, but also apply for $10,000 more toward a new divider for the field house. The total of the divider is expected to be about $20,000.

The board approved applying for the grant, as well.

If the board moves forward with the lift systems once it receives the bids, it will take about seven weeks to manufacture the lifts. The lifts would be operating by the start of the next school year, Halloran said. 

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