Rev. Stan Martin and Elder Roy Aarons had a problem at the First Presbyterian Church in Centralia, Illinois: 14 concrete steps. Those 14 steps lead into the sanctuary and make it difficult and, in some cases, impossible for older members and visitors to take part in services and events regularly offered by the church. As a very active part of the community it serves, the church knew a permanent solution was needed to solve the stair issue.
However, possible fixes were limited, as the church is a historic building. The congregation was founded before the Civil War in 1856 and the current building had the cornerstone laid sometime in the 1919. Defacing a historic, nearly 100 year old building in the middle of Centralia wasn’t a viable alternative.
Another problem was the many narrow stairways throughout the inside of the church. They simply could not accommodate stair lifts, and the church leaders felt that the stigma that comes with stair lifts would cause people to avoid them. The church did have an external chair lift, but parts became increasingly difficult to find, repairs became more frequent, and the church felt it was necessary to post a person to help with operation. These factors were getting in the way of consistently using the lift. A ramp to the front door was also considered but ruled out as a viable option. To comply with code requirements, Elder Aarons estimated that the ramp would have to “circle the building” to follow all the rules. Not only would that be an inconvenience, but it would also detract from the overall look of the building.
The solution to the problem was Phoenix Modular Elevator. PME was able to provide a 2000 lb capacity, ADA/wheelchair approved, commercial-quality elevator to meet the needs of the church. The elevator complies with all applicable codes and will be safe for operation for those that are wheelchair bound or unable to navigate the steps. The elevator buttons will be at the proper height and they will not have to provide extra help for operation. Rev. Martin hopes that the elevator will allow wider access to the church: “There are people in our community that do not attend church because of steps. The elevator will make us accessible for anyone.” The elevator will ensure there is little interruption to their weekly schedule of services, meetings and Bible study, as anyone who wants to attend will now have full access.
The elevator will have the ground floor entrance facing the parking lot and it will reach two levels within the church. One will access the lower level, where classrooms and a fellowship area are located, while the other stop will access the second floor, reserved for additional classrooms, sanctuary and the church office. The elevator will be set exterior to the church, and the completed hoistway will be clad in brick to match the rest of the church so as not to detract from the look of the historic building.
Once the elevator pit is poured and openings for the stops are made, the elevator will be craned into place and be fully functioning in less than a week, ready for state inspection. To help keep costs low and within the church’s budget, an existing room in the basement will be converted into the machine room that will house the controller, hydraulic pump and tank.
The completed unit will be installed sometime in November and the public is invited to see an elevator lifted by crane and dropped into place. It is a faster, easier way to meet the needs of not only this church, but any church looking for a way to improve accessibility and tackle the problem of stairs.