Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on November 18, 2020
After just a decade of service, the three elevators in the Langston condominium in Harlem were beginning to fail. Buttons got stuck, the paneling on the cab walls was peeling, the cabs were dark, and on one occasion a woman and her young daughter got trapped between floors for three hours. Something had to be done.
“The elevators just looked really cheap, and we got a lot of complaints,” says Ben Koening, an architect and the president of the 180-unit condo’s board. He notes that the building was completed in 2007, during the frenzied building boom that preceded the Great Recession – a time when many New York developers were cutting corners on quality.
“I thought that if we redo the elevators, we should do it right and they’ll last for 25 years,” Koenig says. “I ended up persuading the board and residents that this was the way to go. We wound up saving substantially on the service contract, so over time it will kind of pay for itself.”
With Koenig serving as project manager, the board began by hiring Citywide Elevator Consulting to advise on the scope of work, then hired Nouveau Elevator to do the job. The cabs were rebuilt, the lighting and security cameras were upgraded, key fob access was installed, and a separate button was installed to summon the one elevator that goes into the basement, where the garage and bike storage are located. In a stroke of foresight, the mechanics were told to install door lock monitoring long before the city-mandated deadline of Jan. 1, 2020, when mechanics were in high demand and prices were at a premium. Rope grippers, which will not be required until Jan. 1, 2027, were also installed.
Now it was time for the bells and whistles. Before the renovation project, unit-owners were less than diligent about using the online BuildingLink communication system, so the board posted updates and communiques in frames inside the elevator cabs. Koenig, eager for a better alternative, investigated the Captivate video screens that have become common in commercial building elevators, but he found that the company charges a monthly fee.
“Our consultant found a company in Canada, Mad Elevator, that makes screens that can be updated on the Cloud and don’t have a service contract,” Koenig says. “They’ve created their own software, and once you install it, you own it. I can program the screens without leaving my apartment.”
At a cost of about $2,500 per cab, plus the cost of internet hookups, the elevators now sport video screens that convey a menu of customizable features, including building notifications, weather reports, seasonal information, slide shows and reminders such as “Please vote on the bylaw changes by Friday,” and “New internet service is coming to the building.”
But the board wasn’t quite done. As the coronavirus swept the city in the spring, CEC Elevator Cab Corp. announced that it had developed an air-purifying system for elevator cabs, Sterilyft, that employs MERV-13 filters, fans and ultraviolet light. The board was all in. The system was installed in all three cabs, at an additional cost of $5,000 per cab. “It was a simple add-on to make people feel more comfortable,” Koenig says. “We were the first in the world to install this in our elevators.”
The entire elevator project, which cost under $500,000, was paid out of the condo’s reserve fund, without an assessment or jump in common charges.
At the Langston, which was named in honor of the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, the bad old days of balky elevators are a fading memory. “Residents,” Koenig reports, “have responded very positively.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGER: Akam. CONSULTANT: Citywide Elevator Consulting. CONTRACTOR: Nouveau Elevator. SCREEN SUPPLIER: Mad Elevator. AIR PURIFICATION SYSTEM: CEC Elevator Cab Corp.
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