CANYON CITY - It might surprise some people to know that the lift on the stairs at the county courthouse is state approved.
Many people know that it's tricky to operate, is past its prime, can't handle all makes of wheelchairs and it looks like a kiddie ride gone bad. It does, however, meet all requirements for handicap access.
Safety features stop the lift when it detects too much movement on the platform and it's difficult to get it started again.
The default fix when that happens is that someone has to turn a manual crank to move the lift.
County Treasurer Kathy Smith has become the courthouse "expert" on the workings of the lift, County Court Judge Dennis Reynolds said.
All that was little comfort recently to a woman whose whose wheelchair wouldn't fit (Reynolds drove around town to get one). That the woman has multiple sclerosis and is more than average weight made it more difficult.
There was also a problem because the person on the lift controls the lift and she couldn't do that.
Several people spent most of the morning - four hours, by some estimates - trying to help her upstairs, where she was to testify in a criminal proceeding in which she was the victim.
"It was a complete loss of her dignity," the woman's caregiver said. "It's shameful that the court doesn't have good disabled access."
Circuit Court Judge William Cramer moved the case to the state building on Main Street in John Day; so the woman could have her day in court.
There's been a recent upswing in people using the lift, perhaps due to an aging population, but there isn't often a major problem, Reynolds said.
The county has for years wanted to replace the lift, but cost (as much as $200,000 three years ago) has prevented an upgrade.
"ADA money has dried up," Reynolds said.
John Boynton, the county's emergency management coordinator, is trying to find funding, Reynolds said. Boynton has worked with the district attorney and the sheriff's office to help apply for government grants.
Several types of elevators have been considered, even one that would run on the outside of the building. It's all a matter of getting the money, Reynolds said.
Reynolds found a website (daytonaelevator.com) for a company that sells pneumatic vacuum elevators for home use. These elevators have a 450-pound lift capacity (same as the courthouse lift), run on air pressure, with no cables, pulleys or pistons, and are easier to install (and cheaper) than traditional elevators in part because they don't require a pit or hoistway to be constructed. The company is working on a design for public buildings that will work with wheelchairs.