Elevator renovation has ups and downs

By Rick Moreci

Tension in the residence halls is high because of the ongoing problem with the elevator modernization project. However, for the first time, students are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Linda Tillis, assistant director of Housing Services, and Bob Albanese, director of the Physical Plant, attended the weekly Residence Hall Association (RHA) meeting Sunday night to address the elevator issue.

The elevators are planned on being non-operational starting the night students leave for Thanksgiving break, Tillis said. This will allow a thorough examination to determine what is still causing the elevators to break down and the clocks to surge in certain halls. Albanese said he also hopes the clock problem will be resolved over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Until recently, there were only two elevator mechanics employed by NIU. A third mechanic has just been added, but further training on the new system is still needed, Albanese said. Another problem is that two of these mechanics live in Rockford. There are cases where students have been stuck in an elevator for three or four hours due to the fact that the mechanics live so far away. Albanese said something has to be done to hire mechanics living closer to NIU so these problems do not continue to occur.

According to Albanese, the elevator modernization project is nearly 95 percent complete. However, as many students know, there are still many problems occurring on a daily basis.

Albanese summarized the work orders on the elevators for the last 100 days. He accounted for the total number of work orders issued per hall and of these, how much of the damage was caused by students and how much was due to a malfunction with the system.

In Grant Towers North, 20 of the 49 work orders issued were caused by student damage. Grant Towers South had 20 out of 54 student caused work orders. Stevenson Towers North had the worst problem with system malfunctions because only 25 out of 75 orders issued were caused by residents. Stevenson Towers South saw 24 student damage work orders out of a total of 49. Compared to the other residence halls, Neptune’s elevators are functioning well. Neptune submitted only two work orders.

“We are not making final payments to Otis (the outside elevator contract company) until we are reassured that we got what we paid for,” Albanese said.

Albanese and Tillis also addressed capital budgets at the meeting. Albanese said the main purpose of the capital budgets is to make money available to update machinery in the residence halls. He said a minimum of $3 million is spent each year on these budgets. The replenishment of mattresses, drapes and furniture are all projects which would be included in the capital budget.

“‘Nice to have projects to be considered as well from now on,” Albanese said. He said too much emphasis is being put solely on the needs in the halls rather than any of the wants. He said food services also has access to the money in capital budgets to do necessary updating. This year’s budget will include the updating of one of the hall’s cafeterias.

Tillis said each hall has been asked to generate a list of capital budget projects. These lists go directly to Tillis where she will try to balance the budget between all of the areas. She said the three areas which are accounted for in the budgets is the Physical Plant, housing and food services.

“The capital budget has little to do with room and board rates,” Albanese said. “Dollars in the capital budget are already allocated.”

Albanese said a new bond for $30 million at Illinois State University in Normal was issued recently to renovate all residence halls on that campus. He said this might be something for NIU to consider one day. For now, he said, projects should be done in the residence halls in an effort to make students want to return. Tillis said negotiations are the only way to decide which halls get major capital budget dollars for renovation.

Albanese said capital budget projects only include items over $25,000. Projects under $25,000 are considered separately. “Smaller projects can be treated and responded to fairly quickly,” he said.

Tillis gave an example of individual problems with mattresses as a smaller project which does not have to be handled through this budget. Students need to make their hall councils aware of the problem so it can be handled.