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Surprise Geyser

Elevator work is often big and messy and brute, and board planning for it has usually taken months, if not years, but even the best-laid plans can go haywire. You had a pretty dramatic incident occur at what you thought was a routine job.

I've been in this business 36 years, and just when you think you’ve seen everything you could see, another surprise pops up. Sometimes it is shocking and needs immediate action, so everybody has to get on the same page real quick. This incident took place at a hydraulic elevator modernization job. We were removing the hydraulic piston from the ground and there was a little bit of water in the elevator pit, but nothing out of the ordinary. When we pulled the piston out, however, we suddenly found ourselves facing a 15-foot geyser. The piston had been plugging up an underground stream. Once the piston came out, the basement started filling up with water.


And then what happened?

First, we had to assess the situation, which took about a week and a half. We had to go to multiple plumbing companies to have pumps installed, and those pumps were ejecting the water, basically fast enough just to keep the job status quo so that the whole basement didn't flood while we all made decisions on what we were going to do. Then a company came in to inject some kind of water seal membrane around the whole pit area. That was another two weeks. So, what was supposed to be a four-or-five-week elevator modernization costing $145,000, turned into a three-month project costing around $700,000.


For boards that are doing elevator work, it makes sense that if an elevator job is going to cost $100,000, for instance, you should have access to more money just in case an emergency comes up.

Absolutely, and it's only because, when you're in a critical situation, especially one that is unforeseen, usually you're already at the point where the elevator is shut down and taken out of service, so now you have people walking the stairs or a second elevator, which is doing double duty now, and the clock is ticking. That's when you don't want to have to start scrambling to increase your line of credit or use money reserved for another capital expenditure. Now the good news is that a lot of times you go through these jobs, and nothing unusual comes up. But I think it's very smart for everyone to have something in reserve just in case.


When something goes wrong, is there a blame game that goes on?

There's no one to blame. I would say that 60% of our jobs definitely entail some kind of a surprise. Now, out of that 60%, a customer might only be aware of about 20%. Nobody wants to hear that they have to spend extra money or extra time. In my many years doing this, the most common question I’m asked by clients is: “How did you not know about this situation before we started the job?’ I get it. We're professional elevator people. We come highly recommended. Maybe we have been working with the building for 20 years. The fact is we couldn't have seen a geyser coming because there was a piston in the ground that was plugging up an underground stream. Even if you have the best consultant, the best elevator company, with the smartest people involved, there are definitely unforeseens that could happen after an elevator is taken out of service.

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