NEW CUMBERLAND - Plans are underway for the installation of a second elevator at the Hancock County Courthouse, but it's going to be a slow ride.
Hancock County commissioners began looking at the possibility of a second elevator in January after Circuit Court Judge Martin J. Gaughan complained in a letter about the "lack of reasonable accommodations" in certain areas of the courthouse.
Gaughan uses a stair lift to get to his courtroom and judge's chambers in the older section of the courthouse, but he described that as "only a temporary solution."
ELEVATOR AREA — The open area between the two sections of the Hancock County Courthouse may eventually house a second elevator to improve handicapped accessibility to the older section of the courthouse. -- Stephen Huba
The Hancock County Courthouse is actually a complex of two buildings - a three-story cut stone building dating back to the 1920s and a three-story brick and pre-cast concrete annex built in 1968. The two buildings are connected by a walkway but their floors do not align evenly, so the elevator in the annex does not provide easy access to the old courthouse.
Gaughan's courtroom and judge's chambers are on the third floor of the old courthouse, while Courtroom No. 2 is on the third floor of the annex and is directly accessible from the elevator. Also located in the old courthouse are the offices of Hancock County Clerk Eleanor Straight, Circuit Court Clerk Brenda Jackson and Hancock County Assessor Joseph Alongi.
"I hope this matter can be amicably resolved without me having to file an ADA complaint," Gaughan said in a January letter to commissioners, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Commissioners have since solicited two studies of the building - one from ThyssenKrupp Elevator and one from Silling Associates, an architecture firm in Charleston. Silling previously had done an assessment of the Hancock County Courthouse as part of a 2012 statewide study commissioned by the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority.
Silling's first assessment suggested putting the elevator in the back of the courthouse, but that was deemed impracticable, said Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county's Office of Technology and Communications.
Silling did another assessment and determined the elevator could be placed between the buildings; however, doing so would block an exit door and require the establishment of a new exit in the area currently occupied by the 911 Dispatch Center, Zielinsky said.
Such an exit cannot be built until the 911 Center moves to its new location on state Route 2 sometime in early 2014, Zielinsky said.
"Only until the 911 Center can be relocated can a new egress be formed. That puts us into a predicament," he said.
Zielinsky said the commission likely will draft a letter to Gaughan explaining the plan and the timetable. The cost of installing a new elevator has been estimated at $300,000 to $400,000, he said.
Commissioner Jeff Davis said such a plan would allow the public to enter the elevator from the 1968 annex and take it to the second and third floors of the old courthouse.
"It would work extremely well," Zielinsky said. "It creates one focal point for ingress and egress. From a security standpoint, it maintains the entire integrity of the courthouse. It's something that, for whatever reason, was overlooked in the original design."
The Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority did its last statewide assessment in 2003.
At that time, its report on the Hancock County Courthouse made no mention of the lack of elevator access to the offices in the old courthouse building.
The report cites several other ADA concerns, however, and recommends that the courthouse be converted into office space and that a 50,000-square-foot judicial annex be built to house circuit court, magistrate court and family law court.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)