Four Ways of Doing it Right

A Co-op Navigates a Major Multiple-Elevator Renovation Project

July 30, 2015

A major job on your building's elevators will have its - pardon the pun - ups and downs. But how do you take the sting out of it? One co-op says: plan ahead, pay for speed, communicate, and think creatively.

When it was time to tackle a major repair and replacement job on the 13 elevators spread throughout seven six-story buildings, the board at Forest Hills South Owners, a 604-unit co-op in Queens, knew it would be disruptive to residents.

"We had to replace the motors [and] cabling, [and] install a state-of-the-art computer control system, and [add] all-new cabs and doors on each one," says George McGrath, president of the board. "We have a very diverse community, from families with young children to single-person households to senior citizens. We have a lot of different people, but all of them are clearly used to the conveniences of having an elevator available at all times."

So what to do?

Plan ahead and communicate early and often. Planning for the project began more than a year before the work started, says McGrath. The job began in February and will finish in September.

McGrath says the time spent researching the consultant and contractor was vital. Not content with just word of mouth or interviews, board members also visited sites where the firms had worked and talked with past customers. "We had a high degree of confidence," he says. Time spent planning is never wasted. In the end, the board brought Sierra Consulting Group on and tapped Century Elevators as the contractor.

"We wanted a lot of time to think through these issues," he says. One of the keys was to send out frequent memos to residents updating them on when construction would begin on each building and the construction timeline. The schedule was nailed down in early 2015 and communicated to residents, but as the jobs neared for each specific building, reminder memos were sent again.

Keeping residents in the loop was crucial, McGrath says, because it allowed residents to prepare. Some people could change travel plans to ensure that they were away during the construction. Others made sure they didn't schedule an appliance delivery when the elevators would be out of service.

Pay and plan a little more for a speedier schedule. The board opted to pay a premium - about 5 percent of the $2.1 million job - for a speedier schedule. Normally, the job would have taken about 12 weeks per elevator, but instead each elevator was to be out of service for either five or seven weeks. (The elevators with manual doors that needed to be replaced with modern ones required seven weeks instead of five.) "We made the investment to have it done quicker," McGrath says. "It was definitely worth it."

Instead of waiting for the job to be done, Century Elevators set it up so that as work neared completion, the company scheduled site inspections with the city. "That way we weren't waiting a week for the inspector to arrive so that we could resume the elevator operations," McGrath says.

Make the roof accessible. Another simple shift was to schedule the repairs so that each building would have at least one operating elevator at all times. Residents were permitted to use the roof to cross over to the side of the building with the working elevator.

Say you live on the fifth floor on a wing with an elevator out of service. You can choose to walk to the roof, and cross over to the wing with the working elevator. McGrath says the board installed temporary lighting and retractable belt stanchions (like those you see when you wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles) to guide people. "I don't believe most people chose to use the roof, but I think they liked the option," McGrath notes.

Simple touches make a difference. "The investment was well worth it," McGrath says. "The apartment corporation is in a financially strong position and can easily absorb this added cost for the six months the work is in progress."

As part of the communications with residents, the board also asked for volunteers who might offer to help out an elderly neighbor or a resident with young children if they need assistance now and then.

"I think the point we were trying to make is that we are all in this together," he says. "It's very community-minded here; people tend to look out for each other."


- Jennifer V. Hughes, Habitat Weekly