The General Theological Seminary is in the Historic District of Chelsea in Manhattan, New York City. Many of the Seminary’s buildings are designated landmark structures built in the 19th century, making accessibility a challenge. The architect for this project, Beyer Blinder Belle, wanted a virtually invisible custom enclosure vertical platform wheelchair lift that matched the existing decorative iron railings.
Handi-Lift, Inc. designed and installed a beautiful, inconspicuous wheelchair lift for this historic, residential building with custom-created ironwork, a special hidden support system, and safety features that complemented the building’s design. The new lift helps make the building ADA compliant.
Because of the Seminary’s landmark status, new construction and renovation at the must be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Handi-Lift ensured that the vertical platform wheelchair lift not only blended in with the stairway, but that it also earned the approval of this commission.
Architectural firm Beyer Blinder and Belle enlisted Handi-Lift to design a code-compliant wheelchair lift that would be "invisible" when the lift was in the park position at the lower landing. The location was adjacent to an existing staircase that served as a rear entry to the residential building. The staircase and the upper platform had decorative architectural cast-iron platforms and railings. At the ground level the railings ran parallel to the building enclosing a window well. The lift would be installed in the corner of the two railings.
The upper stair landing had to be made larger and raised to the level of the entrance, and the staircase rebuilt. A bridge platform was needed from the sidewalk to the front of the lift. Throughout the rebuilding of the landing and railings, the architectural design integrity of the original railing and staircase castings was maintained. Following Handi-Lift's design drawings, general contractor James A. Jenning, Inc. fabricated and installed the ornamental ironwork as well as the supporting steel structure.
The upper landing and bridge to the lower landing had to match the exiting cast iron. A sample piece was sent to the foundry, but unfortunately there were no other pieces of the proper size to copy. Several typical pieces of the original castings were used to sand cast multiple replicas in aluminum. The aluminum castings were cut apart and rearranged to make the correct size and pattern needed. They were then Heli-arced together and ground smooth. Once trial fitted to assure the proper size, the aluminum pieces were used to make a mold and the final pieces were poured in cast iron.
A skirt system was designed to hide the shaft when the lift was left parked in the lower landing. The lower edge of the platform was fitted with a telescoping "toe guard" on three sides. When the lift is down, the skirts are beneath the sidewalk level and are not visible. When the lift is up the skirts block access to the shaft.
The area beneath the lift was enclosed with decorative grillwork and backed by laminated safety glass to protect anyone from walking into the area. To further blend the lift to the setting, the side walls and cab gates were made with laminated safety glass in a perimeter frame. The pump unit and controller were located remotely, mounted under the stairs next to the lift.
The drive system used was a direct-acting twin cylinder hydraulic unit that was designed and built by Handi-Lift Manufacturing. Because the guiding rails do not project above the sidewalk, special lower guide shoes were employed to maintain a stable platform even when the lift is at the top landing. Pressure balance lines were used along with flow control valves to assure the cylinder rams were synchronized at all times. A rupture valise was also installed.
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