- Your church wants to provide wheelchair access to help a wheelchair-bound praise band member get onto the big stage with dignity.
- Your synagogue needs to provide wheelchair access as part of an education wing expansion, and the ADA requires it. Perhaps you expect more youngsters to become a part of your faith community. (Or if you are renting to a small school during the week, then you are doing a powerful service for the wider community.)
- Your faith community needs wheelchair access to the second floor as part of renovating the unused area, and building codes require ADA access.
Does your own faith community have a similar scenario? Great! These are all wonderful, positive indicators that you have a healthy congregation.
Worship Facilities with Wheelchair Lifts
Fit Your Mission
Since you have a healthy congregation, you may as well do things right. Make sure the changes fit your mission, and make sure they will last.
For most of us, the challenge is to hit the right balance of serving our own congregation and serving the wider community. Every congregation needs to find its own ideal blend of service to the wider community, combined with internal care of its members and facilities.
When we find the right balance, our efforts in one area often enhance another area. For example, suppose you renovate your fellowship hall’s kitchen into a pleasant working space. You may unexpectedly double the number of volunteers that show up to make sandwiches for needy children on the second Saturday of every month.
Or, imagine what could happen if you increased your outreach to wheelchair-bound people in nearby retirement communities. You might see some unexpected members of that wider community join your congregation – and donate generously for ADA renovations.
Every faith community needs to be faithful to its own values and its own mission. As long as you keep a clear vision of your mission, things tend to find their appropriate places.
How do you know what’s right for your congregation? Let’s look at some specific points for faith communities seeking a vertical platform lift for wheelchair access. If you ask the right questions, you may even be surprised at what the conversation reveals about your mission!
First, choose a diverse group of people to sort through your priorities using the following checklist. Some things will matter, some will not, some will get mixed reviews, and some may emerge clearly as critical elements.
Given your congregation’s mission, check the items that you think are important.
Many lifts are very loud. If your lift will be used in or near your worship space, consider a hydraulic drive system and be sure it is designed to reduce noise.
Many lifts have tall side towers covered with sheet metal. This may be fine in your parking lot or maintenance building, but it may be a serious eyesore somewhere else on campus. If an attractive environment is important, you may want to look at towerless lifts, or enclosed lifts with high-impact clear thermoplastic panels.
Many “commercial” lifts are actually based on lift designs for private homes, with some added features to meet the bare minimum safety standards. Look for at least an under-platform safety pan, or rigid safety skirting, or even a full enclosure. Also look for full height sides (at least 42”) all the way around the lift car, to protect standing companions and people with walkers from falling out of the lift.
Many lifts support their platforms from one side only. Uneven support can lead to a jittery, wobbly ride. For the most comfortable, stable ride, look for lifts with support on both sides, and for lifts specially engineered for stability.
Many “portable” lifts can take several people an hour or more to move. If you want the flexibility of a portable lift for your stage, but have limited time and service staff, look for a lift that one average person can move and set up in less than 15 minutes.
Many lifts are designed for very light use, with a short life expectancy. If the lift will be used at all, you will want it to serve your congregation for decades. Look for long standard warranties – 1 year is typical, 3 years is better, 10-20 years is best.
Many lifts require extensive semi-annual maintenance plans (which include tasks like greasing, adjusting, replacing, etc.) to keep them running. If you want life to be easy for your staff, look for simplicity, such as “check the hydraulic fluid level every six months.”
What have you learned about your campus, your community, or your mission from evaluating this list together?
What Will This Cost Us?
By and large, your mission should guide your checklist. The more checkmarks, the more you would expect to pay for your ideal solution. Thus, price should directly reflect your mission. If you stick to your values, it’s as simple as that.
If you checked two or three items in the list, then a typical price point for a true public facility lift would be $15,000 to $35,000. You should expect to wind up in the $25,000 to $75,000 range if you need the very best. You could spend even more for a custom lift, but those units are typically in luxury hotels, high-end medical or commercial facilities, world-class entertainment venues, and possibly a few mega-churches.
If you have fewer than 200 people in your congregation, you may have to settle for the least expensive lift you can find. However, your budget allocation for a basic lift suitable for use by the public should be no less than $8,000. Anything cheaper may be better suited for home use, so you should be wary.
Faith communities across the country are trying to find the right blend of congregational growth, mission support, ADA compliance, and cost-effectiveness. Every congregation has unique needs, and so every project requires a well-planned solution.
What does poor planning look like? On the surface, it looks like it will “save money.” Granted, it could save money in the short run with inexpensive materials and hasty planning. In the long run, cheap materials tend to fail. Hasty planning also costs more because you have to fix the oversights after planning incorrectly. Ultimately, a poorly planned project does not support the mission, and it may even do more harm than good.
On the surface, a well-planned, prayerful, intentional, mission-driven solution may seem to use a lot of resources. It takes time and money for thorough planning and high-quality equipment. And yet, the process may reap tremendous rewards by bringing your community closer together and serving it faithfully for decades.
When we enhance our facility to draw more like-minded people of faith together, we boost the spiritual power of our congregation, and we improve our ability to carry out our mission. Plan well, move forward, and have faith!