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Problem Solved: Expect the Unexpected During Elevator Repairs

About 15% of elevator jobs have complications. I would say another 20% have cost overruns that don’t have anything to do with complications and are sometimes just logistical things. Whether it’s a big or small job, boards need to expect the unexpected.


A Big Job in a High-Rise

We were doing a modernization at a high-end condominium at 100 Barclay St. in TriBeCa, replacing four 34-stop passenger elevators that were all next to each other. They were all overhead traction elevators, 2,500-pound capacity each, which are pretty normal, especially in a building that size. It seemed like a cookie-cutter, plain-vanilla-type job. 


But about four weeks in, our mechanic was doing an inspection and noticed that the cars had some excessive lateral movement in certain areas of the hoistway, which is very uncommon. So he did a little bit of investigation and found that the brackets that hold the rails on each side of the cars were moving. The normal thing would be to laser-align them, put some shims in and tighten them up. 


After further investigation, we found out that years and years ago there were two more elevators next to the existing ones in a different shaftway, and bolts and brackets had been put through the shaftway walls to hold the brackets for the existing elevators that we were replacing. After they removed the old elevators, they used the shaftway for the HVAC risers and other wiring for the building, going from the basement to the roof. So the only way for us to repair this was to chop out the shaftway wall itself, put in tube steel all the way around the hoistway, attach that to the building’s structural steel and weld it in. Then we had to adapt the rail brackets that were moving and attach them to this new structure.


It cost $491,500 to put in the new supports, which is tremendous. We had a fixed-price job of $1.4 million for all four cars, so you’re looking at an unexpected change order that was 34% of the total contract price. It was supposed to take 24 weeks to perform the work, but it ended up taking 56 weeks. 


There’s never a good time to modernize an elevator in general, but when you throw something like this into the mix, it makes things much worse. People get a little bit up in arms, and then when you add in the cost factor it’s like getting hit twice. Fortunately this was a luxury condo, and it did have the funds. If it didn’t have the money and had to do a refi, that could have been a huge problem. 


Surprise In a Low-Rise

We ran into a different problem in Brooklyn at a seven-story building with two elevators, a very traditional type that you find up and down Ocean Parkway. The job was a $548,000 modernization. Normally we do all of our modernization work after switching off the main disconnect line in the basement. My mechanic was going into the disconnect when he noticed that the wires, which were about 70 years old, were very brittle. He took some photos and sent them to the building supervisor, who sent them to the project manager, who brought them to the board. It called in an electrician, who found that three wires coming into the basement machine room mainline switch, which was supposed to be strictly for the elevator, had additional wiring spliced in for the compactor, egress and exit lighting, and sump pumps. 


So we had to stop in the middle of the job while the electrician fixed the improper fusing problem. The cost of those repairs was $11,000 per elevator. So in addition to the delay, the board is already feeling the pain of an almost $550,000 modernization and then a $22,000 issue arises that doesn’t even have anything to do with the elevators. Talk about being blindsided.


Expect the Unexpected

Co-op and condo boards should be aware that if somebody says the job is going to be nine weeks, you’re better off figuring for at least 10. If it comes in at nine, you’re good; if it comes in any earlier, it’s a minor miracle. That’s why boards should be 100% prepared for cost overruns and have access to more money. You don’t want to have to push your capital expenditure to the point where you’re really up against the wall and have to scramble at the last minute.

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