Last spring, history professor Karen Jolly was riding in one of Sakamaki Hall’s elevators when the elevator’s power went out, leaving her confined in the dark for more than half an hour.
Jolly was with another staff member, but this wasn’t the first time she had gotten stuck. During the same semester, Jolly’s elevator stopped between two floors when she was alone.
The elevators in these buildings are part of a group of 17 elevators that will be replaced in the second phase of the campus’ Elevator Modernization Project.
“This project was started because the elevators have exceeded their normal life cycle expectancy and are performing unreliably,” Stephen Meder, interim assistant vice chancellor for Planning and Facilities, said in an email interview.
The repairs come when many elevators on campus are already 10 to 20 years beyond their intended lifespan. Consequences of using such old elevators have ranged from extended wait times to faculty and students getting stuck in cabs for hours at a time.
The project should minimize the amount of trouble calls, Meder said.
“The UH Mānoa campus administration and Office of Planning and Facilities are spending millions of dollars to modernize the campus,” he said. “We are making it safer, more energy efficient and better operating. This is happening on many fronts – from rooftops, through elevators, to renovating buildings and modernizing infrastructure.”
Since the incidents last spring, Jolly has taken the stairs to get to her fourth floor office.
There are approximately 94 elevators on campus, some of which are between 30-50 years old. According to Meder, the typical lifespan of an elevator is between 20-30 years.
“That’s really scary, because I’ve been in some where they make funny noises, and I just assume that they’re up to date because it’s a school, right?” senior Tessa Peaslee said. “I hope nothing bad ever happens.”
Junior George Bonilla said he supports the project since elevator maintenance is a safety concern.
“If there’s any technical difficulties, they should fix it because that’s a hazard for students,” he said. “It’s a safety factor, and it’s all about the students being safe to go to classes.”
The main factor that determines an elevator’s life span, according to Michael Plunkett, branch manager for KONE elevators in Honolulu, is the amount of use it gets.
“If it’s in a heavy-used area, it’s going to wear out a lot faster,” he said. “Just like a car, it’s not so much the years but the miles. It’s the same with elevators.”
Another thing to consider is the environment in which the elevator is installed.
“If it’s exposed to a lot of water, salt air, that type of thing, the elevators will wear out a lot quicker than if they’re inside a building where it’s basically sealed up,” he said. “In climate-controlled buildings, the equipment’s going to last a lot longer.”
The original design of an elevator also plays a role.
“Some elevators are better than others” Plunkett said. “I find that traction elevators, for example, are ones that have steel cables that move them up and down, tend to last longer than hydraulic elevators.”
MODERNIZING THE ELEVATORS
According to Meder, there will be as many as five phases of the project as the number of trouble calls there are about them determines the elevators in each phase. Currently, 44 elevators on campus have been identified.
Since July 2012, Facilities Management has renovated 13 elevators on campus, including those at the Art Building and Bilger Hall. That figure doesn’t include any of the 17 currently under repair.
General Obligation Bond Funds for Mānoa Capital Renewal and Deferred Maintenance projects are used to fund the project, according to Meder.
In March, Facilities Management plans to start work on 14 elevators, including some in Kuykendall Hall and Watanabe Hall.
Jolly said she looks forward to the new elevators but is concerned about how well they’ll function. The same day she got stuck in Sakamaki’s elevator a second time, she was told another person had gotten stuck in one in Moore Hall.
“That made me nervous because I thought well those are new elevators,” she said.
According to Meder, Thyseen Krupps, KONE, Otis, Schindler Elevator and Mitsubishi Electric maintain campus elevators.
“UHM is in the early stages of a decade of renewal,” he said. “We may be inconvenienced by the ongoing construction, but each new improvement moves us closer to the high-quality 21st century campus that our students, faculty, staff, alumni, visitors and the people of Hawai‘i deserve.”
ELEVATOR TROUBLE CALLS
From Jan. 1, 2014 to Oct. 10, 2014, there were six reported instances where the elevator did not open when a rider was inside, according to information from the Work Coordination Center. This figure does not include situations where the door opened before a trouble call was placed and/or before service personnel responded.
Three of the instances occurred in the Sakamaki Hall elevators. Five instances occurred during the spring 2014 semester, and one occurred during this semester.
Elevator problems should be reported to the Work Coordination Center at 956-7134 or to the Department of Public Safety at 956-6911 on weekends or after 4:15 p.m. on weekdays.