The Era of Modernization Part I

Part I: Elevators

By Dennis J. Basquill

Over the past several years, municipalities throughout the country have developed teams within their building departments which focus on modernizing various aspects of the buildings they manage, and often occupy themselves/ such as schools, town halls and housing complexes.  Modernization projects municipalities identify are geared towards providing upgrades to building systems, accessible means of egress, and interior spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms.  It’s a good way for municipalities to make sure their buildings are being maintained and to assure they are providing a stable and quality environment for the tenants living and working in the buildings.

Many housing authorities have complexes solely devoted to elderly and handicap persons, so accessibility within the building is an important feature which must be provided at all times.  One of the major overhauls included as part of the modernization projects for these buildings is the upgrades to existing elevators or the design and construction of a new elevator addition.  A newly upgraded elevator increases the safety and security for its users and enhances the appearance of the cabs to achieve a sleek, modern look.  Elevators are typically considered candidates for upgrades at the ten year mark due to equipment inefficiencies and elevator response delays.

Elevator modernization projects consist of a wide variety of issues to tackle during the design phase.  These issues include power supply requirements, proper ventilation systems, and fire alarm emergency equipment.  One piece of advice for all municipalities undertaking an elevator project:  Make sure the architect you hire includes an elevator consultant on the design team.  Elevator consultants have extensive knowledge regarding the upgrading of existing systems and equipment, as well as the knowledge of code requirements.  Elevator codes change often and it is crucial that all new work meet the current codes.

Another thing to consider, depending on the age and wear of the critical elevator components, is the fact that some of the equipment might be in a condition where it can be retained and refurbished rather than completely replaced, which might result in cost savings to the Owner.  Being cost conscious is necessary; it is not always necessary to dispose of equipment just because of its age, especially with traction elevators which have large steel gears, machines and steel traction cables.  In some cases older equipment was so well built that it would be wiser to keep the old equipment rather than replace it with new.

CBI recently completed a project for the Boston Housing Authority, in which four existing elevators were modernized.  The machines, drivers and sheaves were all refurbished and utilized for the new elevators being installed.  The cab interior finishes were well worn and vandalized, so all new cabs were provided along with new lighting and energy efficient ventilation.  The elevator controllers were considered obsolete and did not meet the current code and were completely replaced. 

An elevator modernization project requires that the design team complete an investigation phase in order to determine the scope of work and extent of the repairs that are required.  Typically, a complete analysis of the equipment will be performed and a full report prepared and issued to the Owner.  The report will include a concise explanation of the existing elevator conditions, a general data table identifying the existing elevator equipment make up, all existing electrical power supply, and recommendations for modernization.  When the repairs are determined the design team will provide a complete cost estimate and breakdown of all expenses to the Owner for construction costs.  The modernization cost for a typical five-story traction elevator is approximately $175,000.  This cost does not include the related electrical and mechanical work.

Spending the time initially with all design team members to do a complete study of the existing equipment is critical to determine the proper design strategies and assure a successful project.

Elevator modernization projects have an immediate positive impact on the building tenants.  Modernized elevators improve the safety of passengers, appearance of elevator cabs, the efficiencies of the equipment, and are more reliable for the users.  To some designers elevator projects might not seem all that attractive and interesting but, the challenge is quite significant and the knowledge gained is very satisfying.