Taking the stairs
Weldon residents say they can live without elevator for next two months
Stella Shilko, 95, of The Weldon House has to climb four of these sets of stairs to get to her second-floor apartment. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
Stella Shilko, 95, rests between flights of stairs as she climbs to her apartment on the second floor of The Weldon House. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
Adele Sheperd, a seconod floor resident at the Weldon House, is not looking forward to climbing stairs when they begin repairs on elevator. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
GREENFIELD — Seventy-three-year-old Adele Sheperd said she isn’t thrilled that she will have to go up and down the stairs to her second floor apartment in the Weldon House while the building’s only elevator is being replaced,.
But, she said, “This will give us all some good exercise ... Many of us need it.”
She said even with a bad knee, she will try to endure without complaining for the next six to eight weeks, which is how long the project is expected to take.
Richard Henken, president of Schochet Companies, which owns the apartment building for elderly and disabled residents, said the company plans to replace as quickly as possible the only elevator in the 109-year-old former hotel on High Street.
On Monday, Schochet began the elevator replacement.
Henken said the company considered installing a second one, but learned it wouldn’t be architecturally or financially feasible.
He said an external elevator couldn’t be installed because Schochet is limited to what it can do, including the changes it can make to the stucco and concrete exterior of the historical building.
The company plans to reopen the elevator the week of Sept. 29, if all goes well.
That means elderly and disabled residents have to climb one, two or three stories to get to their apartments. The Weldon houses 112 low-income, elderly and disabled residents in 105 apartments on five floors.
The company has hired two temporary full-time employees to help residents carry groceries, laundry or whatever else, or to simply help them up the stairs. It has also placed chairs on each landing between floors so that residents can stop and sit to catch their breath.
As some residents sat outside on benches beneath windows on the back side of the building Tuesday, they could hear others walking up several stairs, pausing, and then continuing after they apparently rested a moment.
“We love our residents and want to make sure they’re safe,” said Henken.
He said he understands the hardship some are feeling and Schochet wants to do whatever it can to help make the transition and construction time smooth and pleasant.
Three residents left the building for the next two months to live with friends or relatives, he said, while two others plan to spend some time in a local hotel.
“Residents will continue to pay rent and Schochet will pay for their hotel stay, even if it ends up costing more than what they pay” in rent, he said. “We want to make this easy on them.”
Henken said the two new employees will each work eight hours a day during the week. He said their shifts will overlap, so there will be at least one person there to help residents from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Residents will have to ask friends or family for their help on weekends.
“We do understand and feel bad about the inconvenience this is causing, but there’s not a lot we can do about it,” said Henken.
Greenfield Building Inspector Mark Snow said because it is an existing building and no other major renovations are being done, there is no requirement to add another elevator. He said if the company did add another, it would turn into a much larger and lengthier project.
The company informed residents earlier this summer about its plans to replace the elevator.
Schochet said every resident was given the option of staying in a hotel during construction, but residents told the company they’d rather stay in their homes.
Some residents, who didn’t want to be identified, said the whole process is going to be a “pain,” but also said they would endure because they know it needs to be done and no one wants to be the one who got stuck in the elevator when it died.
Henken said the company has done several fixes over the years, but realized earlier in July that fixes are no longer good enough.
“It’s not a hardship on me,” said Nancy Peavey, 73, who lives on the third floor. “It is on a lot of others. What about the lady in a wheelchair who lives on the fourth floor?”
Vanessa Lilley, 56, said she lives on one of the upper floors and will have a tough time.
“It’s going to get harder and harder because I have bone cancer,” she said. “It’s not a fun thing, but this has to be done.”
Eva Marturano, 79, lives on the first floor, so she only has to climb one story, but said with leg and hip troubles, even that is going to give her problems.
“I’m just going to need empty hands and a railing to get up the stairs,” she said.
Angela Clayton, 67, uses a cane to get up and down the stairs. Clayton, who lives on the fourth floor, said she’s not anticipating any major problems for herself. She said maybe with the help of staff and other residents, the most helpless will get through construction without a problem.
Greenfield Fire Chief Robert Strahan said firefighters have been working with Weldon management to devise an escape plan in case of fire.
He said firefighters wouldn’t use the elevator during a fire anyway, so a temporary closure isn’t going to make much of a difference in that respect.
Strahan said medical calls will be a little more difficult, because instead of using the elevator to transport a patient, first responders will have to use the stairs.
“We have the equipment, though, so it won’t be a huge problem,” he said. “And, it’s not forever, which is good.”
Henken said Schochet redeveloped the building 40 years ago. The elevator worked well until several years ago.
Built in 1905 as one of the first reinforced concrete buildings in the country, the Weldon was first used as apartments for employees of a local manufacturer — Wells Brothers & Co. — and later turned into a hotel. It was renovated in the 1970s.
The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and two years later began catering to the disabled, elderly and low-income.
Henken said nothing else will change for residents during construction. If a resident is receiving services from local social service agencies, he or she will continue to do so.
He said if a resident has been using the senior center, which is located on the lower floor of the building, he or she will still have access to those services.
For those who use Franklin Regional Transit Authority buses to get around, nothing will change.
FRTA Administrator Tina Cote said the agency’s fixed route, Route 21, will still stop at the Weldon eight times a day beginning at 8:04 a.m. and ending back at the Weldon at 6:25 p.m.
Cote said Route 21 stops at the town’s major housing projects, like the Weldon, the “High-Rise,” Mill House, Elm Terrace and Leyden Woods, as well as Greenfield’s major shopping centers, Greenfield Community College and Valley Medical Center.
She said residents will still have the option of calling in advance for a ride from FRTA’s demand-response vans, which takes people grocery shopping, to have their hair done, or other places they need to go to run errands.