Bangs Community Center elevator crashes during inspection

  • Mural on the outside of the Bangs Center in Amherst

  • Turnout was light on Tuesday as Amherst voters, including here in precinct 4 at the Bangs Community Center, were asked to decide whether the town should form a charter commission to study town government. KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 10/4/2016 9:49:14 PM

AMHERST — Periodically serving as a receptionist for the Amherst Senior Center, Susan Dierks gets calls from people seeking wheelchairs, seated walkers and other equipment stored in the convalescent loan closet.

While checking on the availability of these items, Dierks, 79, usually hops aboard the elevator just outside the office on the first floor of the Bangs Community Center, goes to the closet a couple of levels down, and then returns to the office to provide this information.

But she has been slowed in this work after the only elevator in the four-story building crashed while inspectors from the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security were inspecting it last week.

Felix Browne, spokesman for the state agency, did not immediately respond to a request for more information Tuesday.

John Imbimbo, the municipal facilities coordinator, said the elevator sustained heavy damage during a test to determine how much weight it could hold. The damage was so significant that the elevator will essentially have to be rebuilt in place, leaving the building without an elevator for as long as half a year. The damage is also disrupting a variety of programs held at the Bangs Community Center.

Yellow caution tape now surrounds the elevator doors, and an “out of order” sign greets people entering the building on Boltwood Walk, stating that it will be four to six months before the elevator is replaced. The signs tell people where they should enter the building if they need to reach any of the three levels of the Senior Center and do not want to walk up or down stairs.

The Senior Center uses the basement meeting rooms and activity space, the ground floor space for the kitchen and lunch program, and the first floor, housing the main office and additional meeting rooms and activity space.

Senior Center Director Nancy Pagano said having no elevator will be “a huge challenge” for all the disabled people who come to programs as well as for elderly people who find it difficult or impossible to climb stairs.

“We’re just scrambling and thinking about all the implications,” Pagano said.

The second floor houses the offices of the Center for New Americans and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, both of which rent the space from the town, which cannot be accessed from an exterior door. Eventually, the John P. Musante Health Center will occupy a section of the basement as a third tenant.

Thanksgiving dinner

Already, Pagano has decided to call off the Thanksgiving dinner for senior citizens she has put on for 40 years. Many of the turkeys and fixings are prepared on the first floor and need to be brought to the cafeteria for serving by using the elevator, but would be too heavy for her and volunteers to walk down to the kitchen.

The biggest immediate concern is the possibility that not having an elevator will reduce the number of people who feel comfortable coming to the Senior Center and navigating their way around the building, Pagano said

“We have a great, accommodating staff and volunteers who want to get us through this,” Pagano said.

But there are questions about whether this will be enough.

Helen MacMellon, a licensed social worker for the Senior Center, said Pagano is considering recruiting volunteers who would be stationed on various levels of the building to help get senior citizens around. They might help walk them to another entrance, or lend a hand for someone who has difficulty with stairs.

Winter woes

When winter arrives, MacMellon said, the problem will be worsened by people who will not want to remain out in the elements longer to find the right door to enter — and could risk slipping on ice and snow.

“It’s a nightmare,” MacMellon said.

Laurie Millman, director of the Center for New Americans, said Community Services Director Julie Federman, who oversees the building for the tenants, has accommodated their needs by setting aside office space on the first floor.

“We have a literacy class which meets on Tuesday where neither the teacher nor one of the students can access our classrooms on the second floor without an elevator, so we are now established in a first-floor room on Tuesdays for as long as we need it,” Millman said.

Renee Moss, director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, said three staff members who have mobility challenges are using the staircases instead of the elevator.

“They’re being good-spirited about it and slowly walking up the stairs,” Moss said.

Children or mentors who are not able to get to the main office can also use the first-floor office space used by the Center for New Americans. It is most often used by MacMellon and fellow social worker Maura Plante to do private consultation with clients.

Voting issues

The Bangs Center also houses three of the town’s 10 voting precincts, and voters with mobility issues may need to enter their polling place through a different entrance for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Town Clerk Sandra Burgess said people who vote in Precinct 10, in the Glass Room in the Bangs basement, can enter through the rear door facing Clark House.

Similarly, those in Precincts 4 and 5 will have to enter the main entrance on the ground floor if they want to avoid stairs.

While it may take longer for some people to get to the voting booths, and may be an inconvenience, it is permissible, Burgess said. “They’re not being denied access to the polling place,” Burgess said.

The Bangs Center also is a central supply site for municipal buildings, storing items such as hand soap, floor polish and cleaning chemicals. Imbimbo said getting these materials out to other sites will take more time and be more complex without an elevator.

“You have to rethink how you conduct your business,” Imbimbo said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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Northampton, MA 01061


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