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McKeesport church ramps up accessibility

Carol Waterloo Frazier | Daily News
Bob Reist, Pastor Deborah Kociban, Diane Plowman Perun and Howard Morgan of S.M. Improvements stand on the ramp at First United Methodist Church.

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Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 4:26 a.m.

When First United Methodist Church in McKeesport was built in 1925, an accessibility ramp was not in the plans.

As a consequence, some with disabilities have had difficulty entering the building, especially the sanctuary.

Thanks to S.M. Improvements, that 88-year-old oversight has been corrected with a 60-foot ramp that allows access for to all who want to worship at the Cornell Street church on Christmas Eve and throughout the year.

“The parishioners are thrilled,” Pastor Deborah Kociban said. “It's wonderful to be able to invite those to church who couldn't come before.”

The ramp was dedicated last week, but a larger celebration is planned when the weather improves, Kociban said.

“When the church was built, there were no guidelines for accessibility,” she said. “No one thought about a ramp, but it's been a need for a long time.”

Church council president Bob Reist said accessibility has been a concern since before he began serving on the board of trustees 15 years ago.

He was prompted to get the project moving by a recent baptism at the church.

“A man came and he was in a wheelchair and we couldn't get him in the church,” Reist said.

Blueprints had been drawn years ago, he said, and there have been fundraisers and capital campaigns through the years. Donations by Peggy Plowman Kremer, Penny Plowman Modrick and Diane Plowman Perun in memory of their parents, longtime church members Lou and Leota Plowman, made the project a reality. Money from the church's Memorial Fund also was used.

“Our parents joined the church 62 years ago,” Perun said. “They went to many churches and when they came to this church they knew this is where they wanted to be.”

Perun said her sister Peggy is “very active” in First United Methodist.

“So when we had this opportunity, we decided this is what we wanted to do in their memory,” she said.

Kociban said the architecture was a problem, but S.M. Improvements' Howard Morgan said the project took only about a week and a half to complete.

“It's the longest ramp I've ever done, but I enjoyed doing it,” Morgan said. “I hope the people like it.”

The church's next project will be to build a handicap-accessible bathroom.

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1916, or

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