Elevator Refurbishment Managing a Major Service Disruption

No matter how well-constructed and carefully maintained, no mechanical system lasts forever – and that goes for elevator cabs and equipment just as much as it applies to roofs or boilers.  At some point, your building’s vertical transportation comes to the end of its useful life, and the inconvenience of refurbishment and replacement becomes a reality for residents. If you live on a lower floor – say the first, second, or even the third story – the inconvenience may not be too severe. If you live in a building with multiple elevators, it’s unlikely that more than one will be taken out of service for upgrading at a time. But if you live in a building with a single elevator and reside above the first few floors, or if you have trouble climbing stairs at all, let alone carrying packages up or down, an elevator upgrade can become a real nightmare.

“Single elevator buildings are a challenge,” says Joe Caracoppa, an elevator consultant with Sierra Consulting Group, a New York City-based elevator consulting firm. “The question is how do you get the people up and down for six to eight weeks while the work is being done and completed?  [The answer] is usually walking up and down. When the elevator is out, it’s out. It can’t be used temporarily.” On the other hand, Caracoppa continues, “Multi-elevator buildings are easy. You always have another car, a freight car or the other passenger elevator. But if it’s just a single elevator, well, no one can use the elevator during the process, and it must be tested by the city before it can be put back into operation.”

Planning for the Inevitable

Jacqueline Duggin is a building manager with Gumley-Haft, a Manhattan-based residential property management firm. She manages a seven-story, single-elevator building on Manhattan’s East Side that recently underwent a total refurbishment.  The property was built at the turn of the twentieth century, and so is over 100 years old. The single elevator required modernization and refurbishing. “The board really had to think a lot about the project, and about this problem,” Duggin says. “We had people in the building, one family in particular, where someone was disabled and used a wheelchair. There was no way this resident could go up and down the stairs.  Another resident had two very large dogs, and they couldn’t go up and down numerous times a day, either. There was no way we could accommodate them. In the end, the board did arrange to do the work during the summer months when many people were away on vacation. The resident with the dogs had a summer home and went there for the duration of the project. The disabled resident stayed with a family member elsewhere. For other residents who were able to go up and down the stairs, we accommodated them by hiring extra staff to help people with their groceries, luggage, etc. We placed chairs on each landing and provided cold bottles of water for anyone who was tired or overheated.”

Another example of community outreach during an elevator upgrade played out at a close-knit, mid-size co-op in Upper Manhattan’s Hudson Heights neighborhood. Built in 1939, the 56-unit building has only one elevator. The cab and equipment were completely refurbished a few years back, presenting the co-op community with a very unique set of challenges. The building was home to about half a dozen residents who were past 90 years of age – all living above the fourth floor. Hope Kaye has been a resident of the co-op for 15 years, and says that most of the elders were former refugees from Eastern Europe during World War II, and as such were perhaps less likely to ask for help than others might be. According to Kaye, those who had children didn’t have them living close by. In order to support and assist their neighbors, the community became proactive.

“One unique aspect of the problem was that these six elderly shareholders took their lunch every day at a senior center around the corner at a synagogue social program,” Kaye explains. “Their social lives required them to leave the building daily. So we set up a protocol to help them without asking them if they needed help. We placed folding chairs on each landing to provide a ‘rest stop’ after each flight of stairs. We also organized a program to check in on them, and offered to do their errands – things like food shopping, picking up dry cleaning, etc., that they might not be comfortable asking a neighbor to do. For those who wanted to do their own shopping, we had the super and residents who were home during the day on lookout to help them carry their bags up the stairs. We did a similar thing with garbage disposal. All garbage must be sorted for recycling, and so had to be carried down to the first-floor collection area, because building’s garbage chute was sealed up years ago. We made sure that when we took down our garbage, we took down theirs, too.”  

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