Elevator annoyances an unavoidable part of daily dorm life

Elevators are often overlooked as an important part of life-until one breaks.

For instance, in Hecht Residential College, the drive board of an elevator burnt out and was down for more than two days in the first week of March.

Students have no other choice but to cooperate in such circumstances, but some raise the question as to why some elevators always have problems.

“I do not think they are reliable,” said Bri Wrinklei, a sophomore who lives in Pearson Residential College.

Safety has also been a major concern about elevators ever since the death that occurred in October 2006 at Ohio State University. When a dorm elevator became overcrowded, the elevator began to descend with its doors open and a student got pinned in between the top of the elevator and the third floor. It was later revealed that the elevators were up to date in inspections but had been experiencing small problems even two weeks before the incident.

The dorm where the death occurred had 11 floors, much like the 12 floors that can be found at Hecht and Stanford Residential Colleges at the University of Miami.

“We try to be aware of what is happening at other universities,” said Jon Baldessari, associate director of residence halls. He added that he had not heard of the OSU elevator death and also said that he was sure that at the next director’s staff meeting the topic would come up.

Baldessari said the current elevator safety education at UM is given at the first floor meeting that takes place in all residential colleges when students move in. Baldessari also insisted that elevator safety should be common sense and that is why perhaps more focus has not been placed on the issue.

Programs on elevator safety are an option for educating students about the real dangers that can occur while riding an elevator. Currently, besides a brief mention during orientation and at the first floor meeting, the University of Miami does not have such a program.

“We create programs that students are most interested in and what our biggest issues are,” said John Pepper, UM’s crime prevention coordinator. He added that currently the top issues on campus are theft, alcohol violations and fake ID’s.

In fact, literature may be found on all of those topics in the Public Safety office, but none on elevator safety. The only information about the subject was one line in a spring break safety tips flyer: “do not overcrowd elevators-this often causes a malfunction which will cause you to be stuck.”

Alan Weber, director for contract administration, oversees the elevator operations on the Coral Gables campus. He said that all elevators on campus receive maintenance each month and are inspected throughout the year.

Weber also said that roughly half of the elevators still need to be switched over from a relay system to a computerized one.

Ironically, Weber said most of the problems that occur with the elevators are usually from the ones that are on the computerized system.

“In my opinion, the old ones that have not been renovated seem to hold up better,” Weber said. “The first six months after a new elevator is put in, it usually gets the most calls.”

He also said stories of students getting stuck in elevators for hours or dropping floors seem to be rumors that have been blown out of proportion. He noted that the average time anyone gets stuck in an elevator on campus is 15 to 30 minutes before help is on the way.

“When people jump in the elevator it gets stuck in between floors for a few minutes,” said Mike Mahal, a junior who lives in Hecht. He also said that, to make it start back up, people jump a little more at the same time. “As college students, we act a little foolish sometimes.”

Mahal has lived in Hecht as a freshman and as a junior, and he said that he actually got stuck his freshman year for a half an hour, due to a power outage.

Although Hecht has had the most recent elevator issues, it does not mean that these same kinds of incidents do not occur at Stanford.

“The doors closed and the elevator would not move for a few seconds so I manually opened the doors, pressed the close doors button, and then the elevator finally went down,” said Drew Davis, a freshman who lives in Stanford. “Had I not opened the doors, the elevator would not have moved.”

More than one Stanford resident has had such issues.

“We have had to manually shut the doors,” said Ashley Carnes, a freshman who lives in Walsh.

Carnes also said that she thought that incidents such as the one that she experienced were due to Stanford elevators being too old and needing to be replaced.

Patience is needed in Hecht and Stanford considering that there are only two elevators per each 12-floor tower. That is why when even one elevator is out of commission it dramatically slows down traffic.

“Last week did not really affect me since I live on the second floor, but my friends who live on higher floors were complaining,” said Patrick Patton, a freshman who lives in Hecht, regarding the March breakdown. “The elevator should have been fixed the same day.”

Weber said that the board, which operates the drive, had to be sent out by air to get fixed and that is why it took several days.

With regard to changes in the towers, Hecht was renovated three years ago and Stanford is due for renovations, although the date has not been determined. It costs several thousands of dollars to make such renovations and, with approximately 80 elevators on campus, it is impossible to fix them right away.

Pepper said the vast majority of calls at UM from an elevator to public safety are accidental, and due to student curiosity or a power surge and the elevator that stalls the elevator for a few seconds.

Though complications do occur with the elevators, by the end of the year most calls are in reference to dropped cane cards or keys.

Mahal, one of the students who had a poor elevator experience, still said “I feel safe,” after realizing how insignificant some of UM’s issues are compared to those at other universities such as OSU.

Sandra Hurtado may be contacted at s.hurtado@umiami.edu.