‘It’s not kind to me’: Broken elevator causing issues at Amherst Senior Center

James McClure waits for a wheelchair or walker to make his way down the hall to the Amherst Senior Center. McClure likes to come on Wednesdays because he goes to programs that run on each of the three floors. But as the town waits for a part to fix a broken elevator, he says, “I use every floor; now I’m limited.

James McClure waits for a wheelchair or walker to make his way down the hall to the Amherst Senior Center. McClure likes to come on Wednesdays because he goes to programs that run on each of the three floors. But as the town waits for a part to fix a broken elevator, he says, “I use every floor; now I’m limited. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Amherst Senior Center Director Hayley Bolton helps James McClure into the Senior Center on Wednesday. The elevator in the Bangs Community Center, where the Senior Center is located, is currently broken as the town waits for a replacement part. McClure says he likes to come on Wednesdays because he goes to programs that run on each of the three floors. “I use every floor, now I’m limited” said McClure about the broken elevator.

Amherst Senior Center Director Hayley Bolton helps James McClure into the Senior Center on Wednesday. The elevator in the Bangs Community Center, where the Senior Center is located, is currently broken as the town waits for a replacement part. McClure says he likes to come on Wednesdays because he goes to programs that run on each of the three floors. “I use every floor, now I’m limited” said McClure about the broken elevator. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Robert Roberts, the Amherst Senior Center bus driver, walks down the stairs to his bus. “Last week I had to bring someone all the way around the building — I would like to see it fixed,” said Roberts, referring to the broken elevator at the Bangs Community Center where the Senior Center is located.

Robert Roberts, the Amherst Senior Center bus driver, walks down the stairs to his bus. “Last week I had to bring someone all the way around the building — I would like to see it fixed,” said Roberts, referring to the broken elevator at the Bangs Community Center where the Senior Center is located. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Amherst Senior Center Director Hayley Bolton helps James McClure into the senior center on Wednesday. The elevator in the Bangs Community Center, where the senior center is located, is currently broken as the town waits for a replacement part. McClure says he likes to come on Wednesdays because he goes to programs that run on each of the three floors. “I use every floor, now I’m limited” said McClure about the broken elevator.

Amherst Senior Center Director Hayley Bolton helps James McClure into the senior center on Wednesday. The elevator in the Bangs Community Center, where the senior center is located, is currently broken as the town waits for a replacement part. McClure says he likes to come on Wednesdays because he goes to programs that run on each of the three floors. “I use every floor, now I’m limited” said McClure about the broken elevator. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

James McClure waits for a wheelchair or walker to make his way down the hall to the Amherst Senior Center. McClure likes to come on Wednesdays because he goes to programs that run on each of the three floors, but it’s more difficult to get around right now because of a broken elevator  at the Bangs Community Center where the senior center is located. “I use every floor; now I’m limited” said McClure.

James McClure waits for a wheelchair or walker to make his way down the hall to the Amherst Senior Center. McClure likes to come on Wednesdays because he goes to programs that run on each of the three floors, but it’s more difficult to get around right now because of a broken elevator at the Bangs Community Center where the senior center is located. “I use every floor; now I’m limited” said McClure. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-01-2024 11:50 AM

AMHERST — Mostly homebound during the pandemic, Robert Mitton has made it a point to return to the Amherst Senior Center recently, dropping by the Bangs Community Center building on a regular basis to play games, socialize with friends and participate in activities.

Unsteady on his feet and using a wheelchair, though, Mitton has found the past month more challenging getting around the building, with a broken elevator forcing him to get between floors by exiting the Bangs and circling the building to another entrance, including doing that on a number of cold and blustery days.

“It’s not kind to me,” Mitton said of the elevator malfunction, offering a concise reaction to the issue by blowing a raspberry. “It affects my health, and I wish they could fix it faster.”

Beginning in late winter, the elevator stopped working, meaning the stairs are the only way to access the four levels of the building internally until a replacement part arrives. It’s the first time the elevator has been out of service for an extended period since being damaged during a state inspection in 2016.

“It’s definitely been tough,” Senior Center Director Hayley Bolton said.

But Bolton said senior citizens show a resiliency and continue to participate in programs. “They are making do,” she said.

Aside from the top level, where the Community Responders of Equity, Safety and Service and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices are located, the remaining three floors can all be accessed via exterior entrances, so those who know where in the building they are heading can select a way in where they won’t have to climb stairs.

Once inside, though, if participants have to move between the levels, their choices are using the stairs, or exiting the building and circling it.

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The Senior Center has programming spread over three levels, including the basement level, with the Glass Room and an exercise room at the foot of the main staircase, alongside the John P. Musante Health Center and the Pole Room, where the historic Civil War tablets are exhibited. On the main entrance off Boltwood Walk is the Large Activity Room, where there is a kitchen and meals are served and large events are staged. On the second floor is Room 101, a main meeting room, and the offices for the senior center staff, including a lounge and computer room as well as Health Department offices.

Signs taped to the exterior doors state that the elevator is out of order, and will be fixed with the replacement part arrives. “We apologize for the inconvenience. We are working to get this fixed promptly.”

The challenges are illustrated when Bolton leaves the building to greet a woman using a walker who has been dropped off at the main entrance. Bolton informs her that if she is coming to the lounge, she will have to climb stairs. She assures Bolton that she will be able to do this, rather than summoning back the driver to bring her to a different entrance.

Bolton said the Senior Center has gotten support from Town Manager Paul Bockelman, but waiting for the elevator fixes has been tough. “He knows it’s a big problem, and is working on it as fast as possible,” Bolton said.

The elevator problems come as Bockelman is providing $2.5 million of the final $3.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to improvements at the building that will benefit seniors, and others. This will include giving senior citizens a more defined, contiguous space, and better exercise room in the building where senior services have been provided since 1978.

There are also improvements planned to the kitchen and enhancing safety.

During Monday’s Town Council meeting, Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said the town wants to use the ARPA money to make the building more usable, accessible and safer, as well as meeting town climate goals, such as replacing windows.

“It’s an aggressive timeline, but we’re ready to go on that, ASAP,” Ziomek said.

Several senior citizens spoke to the Town Council Monday, holding and waving brightly colored signs, with some reading that the “Bangs Center needs help.”

Jeanne Horrigan, who chairs the Council on Aging, said the idea of coming to the council meeting was “raising cane” and making their voices heard. Horrigan said 45 programs, including food distribution, rainbow coffee hour and exercise and music classes are offered, yet there is limited space for all these.

“The ARPA funds are a one in a lifetime opportunity find the needed repairs to Bangs that would otherwise take years to fix,” Horrigan said.

Dick Yourga, president of the friends of the Senior Center, said that over 5,500 seniors in Amherst need and deserve a better facility.

“You know our needs, we will keep those in front of you so that they are not forgotten,” Yourga said.

Mitton also spoke at the council this week, as well, urging them to support the elderly.

Mitton said it is important to continue to show kindness and compassion and keep senior citizens healthy. “Getting exercise can help seniors live longer,” Mitton said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.