BY MELANIE BUCK –
Several repairs are in store for the elevator inside the Polk County Courthouse that will cost the county around $25,000. The elevator is original to the building that was constructed in 1939 and according to County Judge Brandon Ellison, “has always had problems due to its age.”
The elevator is in working condition but requires routine maintenance. An elevator company performs quarterly inspections, costing the county a $2,000 per year retainer fee. Ellison explained that any additional work by the company costs extra. Thyssen Krupp Elevator Americas is one of only two companies that the county can seek the work from and the other company refuses to work on the courthouse elevator because of its age.
The ‘extra’ work is needed this year to make the elevator safe for not only passengers, but for the workers that inspect and maintain the elevator and shaft. In fact, many of the repairs are strictly for worker safety. A pit ladder is needed, along with a car-top handrail, hoistway cover, brake cover, and a new traveling cable and cartop inspection station will be added. On the inside of the elevator, a new hardwired telephone is to be installed, as well as a toe guard, and emergency light kit.
The elevator is very small, measuring only 2 ½ ft x 5 ft, and is old-style. Ellison said it is used several times a week and is required by the state for visitors of the courthouse that are unable to scale the stairs to the upper and lower floors. Approaching the elevator, it looks like a normal door, until you open it, revealing an accordion-style door. Once inside the elevator, it’s antiqueness is apparent. The buttons that take you to other floors must be held down for the entire ride for it to work. There is also tape on the accordion door that must line up properly to the tape on the outside door for the doors to open, requiring particular savvy on when to pull your finger from the button. It is also very narrow, making it difficult for wheelchairs to enter and exit.
A new elevator would be ideal for the situation; however, the cost of such is very high. To bring it to modern status, the elevator and shaft would have to be started from new, requiring a wider shaft and losing much needed office space. Ellison said former Judge Stanley had estimates made of the cost of starting new, which turned out to be more than $1.5 million, a budget Polk County does not have.
Being on the National Historic Register has allowed the county to be ‘grandfathered-in’ and avoid millions in county funds being allotted to the project. Also, Ellison explained, the county is not the only entity that would be involved. “If we changed the elevator much, we would have to seek an easement from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program for permission. Anything we do that changes the appearance or the footprint of the building, AHPP has to be involved in,” stated Ellison.
The Polk County Quorum Court has approved the appropriation of funds to repair the elevator at their March 2016 monthly meeting. The project is expected to begin by June 2016.