by Ken Burchett, associate editor

FEBRUARY 2022 — The elevators by the North staircase and Stair E were both out of service on Feb. 11. The elevator by the North staircase has been out of order since Jan. 24.

Boal described what happened to the elevator. “During the maintenance, a cable was loosened. While loose, it got caught on the ladder that goes into the service pit below the elevator. At that point, the service technician noted that condition and, through an abundance of caution, he took the elevator out of service until the cable could be replaced,” he said. “This was an unusual circumstance, and as such unplanned, requiring a cable that is seldom replaced. That cable is a non-stock item which has to be fabricated.”

“[That elevator is] being fixed as soon as possible. Parts have been ordered; we are just waiting for them to get here and then installed. The administration has talked with all students affected and worked on an alternative route until it is fixed.  We are doing what we can to get this resolved as quickly as possible,” said Mrs. Stephanie Lammlein, Chief Administrative Officer, though did not comment further.

The elevator by Stair E malfunctioned around 8:52 a.m. Feb. 11, and was fixed later that day. Joe Boal, the District Maintenance Director, explained, “The NEOMED head Technician and I were able to reset the elevator. However, each time we did, an error code came back up. We called for service.”

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “When equipment is temporarily out of service for maintenance or repair, a business should repair it as quickly as possible and, in the meantime, find other ways to make its goods or services available to customers with disabilities.”

After the second elevator became unusable, all students with elevator passes were called to the office. Junior Madylin Kohout was one of those students. “We’re using the freight elevator next to Ms. [Janna] Mino’s room. It’s very out of the way of everything, in this far-away corner,” she said.

Kohout struggled to reach the cafeteria after using this elevator, as she didn’t know the layout of the second floor. “They didn’t tell us how to get to the cafeteria, so we were late to lunch. All they told us is that we go through the kitchen to get to the cafeteria,” she expressed. “I’m not mad at the school, things happen, but it’s just like, ‘Come on guys.’ I’ve been having a pretty bad flare up of pain lately, so I’m just trying not to cry all the time.”

The freight elevator is located next to Stair D. During lunch, students took the elevator to floor two, then followed a hallway until they reached the kitchen of the cafeteria. This elevator is located within the restricted maintenance area near room 1008, though students had permission to enter in order to use the elevator.

Zoey Bartholomew is another junior who uses the elevator. “They told us that the [North] elevator would be broken for, hopefully not that long, but they said probably a couple weeks, and in that time if you can’t do the stairs at all they’re going to try to figure out a work around. But I’m lucky that I can do the stairs well enough,” she said.

In order to reach the cafeteria without using the North elevator, Bartholomew typically goes down another elevator in the original wing of the building.

“However, if I want to get to anywhere on the third floor, I cannot use an elevator. I have to use the stairs,” Bartholomew stated. “So when I’m going to the third floor, I make the most of my time.”

Deanna White, the paraprofessional for grades 10 through 12, also experiences difficulty traversing the building without the use of the North elevator. “I just take the steps down one at a time. Probably takes me an extra five minutes or more,” she said. She usually waits until the stairs are free of students, as she worries she will make them late or trip them.

Many students and faculty also cite the height difference between the original building and the new building as a struggle for those with mobility issues.

Bio-Med’s new building has seven stairs that separate it from the old building. According to Boal, “The stair lift was installed at the very end of construction. It became available shortly thereafter.”

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design require that “at least one accessible route shall connect each story and mezzanine in multi-story buildings and facilities.” It also states that “Platform lifts shall be permitted as a component of an accessible route in an existing building or facility.”

Greg Chaplin, the architect and project manager of the construction of the new building, explained the difference in floor height was to accommodate the taller ceilings necessary for the banquet facilities to the North of NEOMED’s NEW Center atrium. If the two buildings had been the same height, there would have been “unnecessarily tall” ceilings on the second floor of the addition, which would have cost more to construct.

Budget concerns also caused them to change their plans for the transition between the old and new building. “The original design included a short elevator at the location currently occupied by the stair lift,” said Chaplin. “Because of budget concerns, early on in the design process, it was decided to remove this elevator and allow occupants to use the main elevator to traverse between these two floors.”

Bartholomew experienced difficulty moving between the two buildings after being in a wheelchair for three weeks following surgery in 2020. In order to get from the original building to the new building, Bartholomew would take an elevator to the second floor. Then, she would go through NEOMED space to another elevator, which took her to the new building.

“If a teacher was with [me], it was a shorter amount of time because they were able to get into entrances quicker [due to their ID badges],” Bartholomew explained. Without a teacher accompanying her, this alternate route took an additional five to 10 minutes to get to class.

White suggested a ramp would make traversing between the buildings easier for herself and for those who cannot use stairs, as the stair lift “takes a while.” White also believes it would be less dangerous, as last year she had a student who struggled going up the stairs but continued to do so with mandatory assistance from an adult.

Chaplin agreed that “perhaps a handicap ramp instead of the stair lift would have made moving back and forth between the new and existing buildings easier.” He concluded that “the ultimate design handled the accessibility challenges that the misaligned floors presented.”

Despite the challenges presented by the layout of the building, White stated that the school handles accessibility fairly well. “I don’t think there’s much they can do at this point. When the elevator over there is working, it’s wonderful, but if not, it’s a struggle,” she said. “I think they know our limitations here. They take into account what’s going on. The teachers worked with us well; we’re adaptable here.”

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