St. Paul United Methodist Church invests in its senior members with a new lift.
Curious onlookers may be wondering what is happening at a downtown Christiansburg institution, St. Paul United Methodist Church. Construction has been ongoing on the east side of the structure.
Is the church adding space? No, something even more vital—it is adding a lift elevator.
When it was built in 1962, the church was constructed with 134 steps inside. Walking stairs are required to move freely about the building. Rev. Moonsup “Paul” Song called the original structure “limited.”
Beginning about 20 years ago, before Rev. Song’s time at St. Paul, the congregation recognized the need for accessibility but the cost of a commercial elevator was about a quarter of a million dollars.
While “we had accumulated some $ 58,000 dollars in the past for future plans to install an elevator,” said Jim Kirk, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, it was only a fraction of what was needed. So the church deferred.
Ten years ago, the congregation looked once again at a commercial elevator and the price had risen to a half-million dollars.
Also investigated was a chair lift to ferry people between floors, but the stairs were too narrow to accommodate one.
A number of years ago (somewhere between 16 and 46, depending on who you ask) a wheelchair ramp was added near Main Street. However, said church member John Eanes, despite being built to town code, the ramp is too steep to easily push a wheelchair up so it did not solve the accessibility problem.
Fast forward to last year, when Rev. Song began to feel that a solution was needed to help fulfill St. Paul’s vision to “reach out to all people in the community regardless of their physical condition.” The project would “align with the denominational vision” – embodied by the United Methodist Church’s recent ‘Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors’ campaign.
Still, the cost seemed too great. So a leadership team from St. Paul started to do research. A church member who worked for a construction company as a project manager became familiar with a lift elevator. The team then visited a church in Roanoke that has one, and they were sold.
Dan Rhudy, a retired engineer with 35 years’ worth of construction contract management experience was asked by Kirk to help oversee the installation. Rhudy felt that the project was important because it accessed almost the whole building – not just the sanctuary but also the floor where staff offices are housed, so that folks could talk to the pastor or secretary as desired.
A lift elevator is similar to a commercial elevator in purpose but is structurally different. Rhudy explained that it does not have the sliding doors that open and close but rather fits snug against the wall with a door that is manually opened when the appropriate floor is reached. The lift also does not move as fast as an elevator. Its capacity is smaller at 1400 pounds – about 6 people or a wheelchair and three people, Rhudy said.
All of this would meet St. Paul’s need, though.
“The lift elevator has the same function but at a reduced price,” said Rev. Song.
The lift will reach each floor, save the basement. (Plans are in the works for a wheelchair ramp for basement accessibility.)
The lift being installed at St. Paul is indoors, necessitating a new space on the ground floor for the lift entrance and rebricking outside to accommodate that new space.
Rhudy has been instrumental in the contract side of the construction, in making choices about aspects such as tile, and inspecting the construction as it progresses.
The biggest challenge, said Rhudy, has been keeping on schedule. Despite frustrations with getting the contractor to expedite the work and snags with subcontractors, he hopes the lift—if not all of the cosmetic work—will be operational by the end of February.
In addition to the lift, more accessibility will be created by expanding the number of handicapped parking spaces on that side of the building, where the ground is flat and members or guests can come right into the lift vestibule or the fellowship hall, said Rhudy.
The congregation coalesced around the effort, with a campaign called “Step by Step.”
“We had established a committee to be in charge. They reported to the congregation each Sunday on the progress of the campaign, which was successful in raising the balance of the contract price of $173,709,” Kirk said.
Rev. Song said that the generous contributions ranged from large donations from senior members of the congregation to the piggybank offerings of children. “God blessed us,” said Rev. Song of the $115,121 raised in just six months.
So the headway continues with an eventual dedication planned to celebrate this new addition – one that Rev. Song fully expects to allow more people to take advantage of the worship services and activities that St. Paul has to offer.