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Work begins on ‘Uplifting’ project

Nick Alejos, front, runs a tape as he and Jaime Tello work on a foundation for an expansion at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center.

Nick Alejos, front, runs a tape as he and Jaime Tello work on a foundation for an expansion at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center. Photo by Mark Gibson.

The Uplifting Elevator project at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center has been eight years in the making and excavation finally began on Wednesday.

Although the fundraising campaign is still $7,000 short of the nearly $400,000 goal, Joan Silver, who chairs the elevator committee, is confident the final funding will be found.

“There has just been tremendous support from the community, hundreds of people have come together to make this happen,” she said.

Seven grants and thousands in local donations flowed in after the campaign ramped up with a series of fundraisers about two and one-half years ago, Silver said.

In addition, Wasco County and the city of The Dalles set aside $50,000 of Google funds tied to a property tax abatement deal for the project.

The center’s original design called for an elevator, said Silver, but there weren’t enough funds available at the time.

Over the years, the cost of construction rose so that the project ended up being much more expensive.

However, Silver said the community’s generosity paved the way for completion of long-time plans.

“We did a tremendous exploration of the building to find the best location for it,” she said.

Jeff Cochenour has been hired as the contractor for the project that will make access between the basement and first level much easier for people, many of whom have mobility challenges.

Currently, people walk down an outside stairway to the daylight basement where the NU-2-U thrift shop and medical equipment for loans are stored.

The first phase of construction will be to frame in the new addition to the front of the building, north of the entrance, said Silver.

That work will bring temporary changes to use of the building on the Ninth Street side. Three parking spaces next to the sidewalk will be closed off, as will the sidewalk from the front door to the outdoor stairway that links the main floor and basement.

Anyone who wants to go downstairs has to do so from the parking lot at the rear of the building.

“Please watch out for the workers and equipment,” asks Silver. “If a suitable handicap parking space is not readily available, have someone come into the building to let us know and we will assist.”

Scott McKay, director of the senior center, is making signs to help people navigate through the construction zone.

“Remember the trite old saying, ‘No pain, no gain,’” said Silver. “Just keep thinking how great it will be when we are taking the first ride up and down.”

Silver said the NU-2-U shop has to be relocated to another space to make way for the elevator.

She expects sales from the thrift outlet, which helps cover operational costs, to increase once it is accessible to more people.

In addition, Silver said it will be much easier for volunteers to sanitize equipment, such as walkers and wheel chairs, and get them to people with an elevator instead of hauling them up and down a stairway.

“It’s just going to make totally usable, leasable space,” said Silver. “Everything will be enclosed so people can go downstairs without going out into the weather.”

She said city planners and building code officials have been very helpful getting the permits in place and the project rolling.

She said the fundraising goal was set a little higher than the expected costs to cover any unplanned expenses, something to be expected with a construction project.

“We decided to hold off on a ground-breaking celebration and have a ribbon cutting when we’re done,” said Silver.

She plans to provide regular updates on the progress of the project.

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