Hancock commissioners discuss courthouse repairs, intersection

NEW CUMBERLAND – With a little prompting from a judge, Hancock County commissioners say they’re going to take a closer look at improving handicapped accessibility at the Hancock County Courthouse.

Hancock County Circuit Court Judge Martin J. Gaughan suggests they start with the elevator.

In a letter to commissioners dated Jan. 16, Gaughan complained of a “lack of reasonable accommodations” in certain areas of the courthouse – the courtroom and judge’s chambers on the second floor, as well as the offices of Hancock County Clerk Eleanor Straight, Circuit Court Clerk Brenda Jackson and county Assessor Joseph Alongi.

“I hope this matter can be amicably resolved without me having to file an ADA complaint,” Gaughan said in the letter.

ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Gaughan currently uses a stair lift to get to his courtroom and judge’s chambers, but he described that as “only a temporary solution.”

The courthouse is actually a complex of two buildings – an old two-story stone building that houses the offices Gaughan references in the letter and a three-story annex built in 1968.

The problem, as Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller sees it, is the fact that the floors on both buildings don’t match up with each other.

“They’re staggered. That’s why we have an elevator problem,” he said.

The elevator provides access to all three floors in the annex but not to the old courthouse offices. “Making a modification to our existing elevator would not satisfy anything the judge is asking for,” said Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications.

Swartzmiller, speaking at the commissioners’ regular Thursday meeting, said the solution may be an exterior elevator and that an “architectural evaluation” of the building may be necessary. Before they spend any money, however, commissioners want to consult with an architect who visited the courthouse last summer.

That architect came as part of a study commissioned by the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority. The study involves a needs-assessment of courthouses in all 55 counties of West Virginia.

Hancock County Assessor Joseph Alongi, who serves on the Authority’s board of directors, said he will try to get a copy of the architect’s report when he goes to Charleston on Monday. The authority’s last state-wide assessment, done in 2003, made no reference to the lack of elevator access to the offices in the old courthouse building.

Also Thursday, commissioners said they will follow up on a complaint from New Cumberland businessman Bill Staley Sr. about the safety of the intersection at North Chester and Madison streets.

Staley owns the building on the northeast corner of the intersection, where heavy truck traffic keeps damaging his steps and the bright yellow poles that are meant to mark the curb.

Staley, who rents efficiency rooms on the second floor and plans to open a hardware store on the first floor in June, said he has written everyone from New Cumberland Mayor Richard Blackwell to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin about his safety concerns.

“I want to get it straightened out before I open my business. It’ll be a busy corner,” Staley said, noting that no business has been there in about 20 years.

Staley said he would prefer that a guardrail be installed there to protect pedestrians and customers from truck traffic. In the meantime, he’s still waiting to hear back from Mark Edge, a design engineer with District Six of the West Virginia Department of Transportation, who studied the matter last year.

Commissioners said they will check with Edge to see what his recommendations are.

In other business Thursday, commissioners:

Agreed to draft a letter in support of New Cumberland City Councilman Shawn Marks’ efforts to improve state Route 2 on Station Hill. Marks said he will take the letter and a petition to Charleston in February.

Approved Sheriff Ralph Fletcher’s request to purchase six new police cruisers for $152,698. The money for the four 2013 Ford Sedan Police Interceptors and two 2013 Ford Police Utility Vehicles will come from the county’s annual portion of video lottery revenue.

Entered into an agreement with the West Virginia Development Office to receive $10,000 in grant money for the building of a new picnic pavilion at Clarke Field in Newell.

Approved Fletcher’s request to fill the vacancy left by former Chief Deputy Todd Murray, who retired in December.

Approved the hiring of attorney Michael W. Lucas II as assistant Hancock County prosecutor on a part-time basis.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)