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Elevator drive aims to boost senior center accessibility

This outdoor stairway is the only covered route between the two floors of Mid-Columbia Senior Center in The Dalles.

This outdoor stairway is the only covered route between the two floors of Mid-Columbia Senior Center in The Dalles. Photo by Mark Gibson.

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The only wheelchair access between the two floors of the Mid-Columbia Senior Center is this outdoor paved driveway.

Mid-Columbia Senior Center is seeking community funding to cover the cost of installing a much-needed elevator to their existing facilities at 112 West 9th Street, The Dalles.

According to Senior Center board member and chairman of the elevator committee Joan Silver, the project is both “absolutely necessary” and one that has been in the works for a long time.

“The building’s original design actually called for an elevator,” Silver said, “but at the time, they just didn’t have the funds. They ran short of money and it was, unfortunately, one of the things they simply could not manage to pay for.”

The main problem, Silver said, lies in the fact that for many of the center’s patrons, navigating the outdoor staircase acts as a barrier to accessing services provided on building’s bottom floor.

“The lower level of the building has very usable space, but gaining access to it is difficult,” Silver said. “In order to accommodate anyone who cannot maneuver stairs, they have to be driven down through the narrow driveway and someone has to know they’re coming to unlock the door for them. Even then, we can only accommodate about three or four cars at a time at the lower-level parking area.”

Silver said that there is at least three different exercise classes currently being offered on the lower level, along with free computer classes, periodic rummage sales and community gathering activities.

“I was just down there this morning doing Medicare counseling, and following me on the day’s schedule were two exercise classes and a group that had requested it to play table tennis… It’s a very desirable space,” she said, “but one that people won’t rent now because of how difficult it is to get down there.”

While the outdoor staircase that acts as the main access route to the space is covered, Silver said it’s still very much subject to damp weather in that both snow and rain can easily be blown in from the side. It also makes transporting anything heavy to and from the space a “difficult chore” for center volunteers.

Concerning the center’s renewed sense of need for a better functioning alternative to the existing access routes, Silver said, “The need has always been there, but now it’s become greater since our ability to use the space has become increasingly impacted.”

The elevator project, she said, is an effort “both to serve the public because we have this continual request for space as well as a way for us to increase the rent income we need to keep the center operating.”

Silver estimates that the total project cost will amount to about $300,000, and that the center will need to raise at least $100,000 of those dollars from the community to fully fund it. In order to make up the difference, she said the center will also be pursuing grant funding opportunities and will continue to seek community support on both the individual and organizational levels until their total funding goal is reached, hopefully within the next year.

“The Senior Center,” Silver said, “is the only community center open to everyone for so many different types of events in town; from internet access, to lecture series, to rental space, to Meals on Wheels—it’s the only one of its kind in the community, and right now we’re asking for that community’s support to enable us to continue providing those services.”

In order to promote the project, Silver says the center is embarking on a month-long “Guess the Elevator” contest to raise awareness in the community.

Photos of different elevators in The Dalles, Silver said, will be posted online on both the Senior Center’s and City Chamber’s Facebook pages as well as their websites, and will also be available in print form at the center and chamber offices beginning Saturday, March 8.

This first “” photo will be followed by weekly postings of new photos of the same elevator from different vantage points, and the series will run for four weeks until March 29.

For further instructions on how to submit guesses or for more information on the contest itself, log on to www.midcolumbia

seniorcenter.com, or contact Silver at (541) 298-1881 or Scott McKay at the Senior Center at (541) 298-4788.

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