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 Caracappa, 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, Caracappa continues, multi-elevator buildings are easier. “You always have another car: a freight car or the other passenger elevator,” he says. “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

Jacquelyn Duggan is a building manager with Gumley Haft, a New York-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 20th 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,” Duggan 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.”

Eveline Smythe is an executive manager with AKAM Management, the managing agent for The Tides in Hollywood Beach. The logistics employed for an elevator project at The Tides—two 15-story buildings located on the beach—was completely different, explains Smythe. “Communication is the key,” she says. “Many of our owners are internationally based, in South America and Canada, so much of our communications were done through email blasts. The first thing we did was discuss the project with the residents at several meetings. Then we set up communications by email with notice as to how the project would progress. We let people prepare for the project.”

Since each building has multiple elevators, at no time was anyone stranded. They did make some changes to regular procedures, though: “When we did the service elevators, we had to halt all move-ins and move-outs and all major deliveries,” says Smythe. “You could still have small packages or food delivered, and we had a security officer in each lobby to facilitate the efficient use of the remaining elevators. We did a lot of that kind of logistical planning.”


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