Aging PfoHo Elevators Malfunction

When Pforzheimer House residents step onto their elevators, they expect to be dropped off on their floor. But according to several House residents, they have been taken for a ride by malfunctions in the buildings' aging elevators.

Pforzheimer residents said in the past few weeks, at least four incidents in the Comstock and Holmes Hall elevators have trapped students for periods ranging from 10 minutes to two hours.

The most serious incident to date trapped residents Ellen Harkavy '01 and Erin E. Conroy '01 for more than two hours last week. According to Harkavy, the Harvard maintenance operator was unable to release them or fix the elevator, and two hours passed before an elevator company technician arrived.

According to Pforzheimer House Superintendent Milton Canjura, the elevators had been fixed since the incidents.

Canjura added that occasional elevator troubles "happen in every House" from time to time, and that the slated replacement of the Comstock elevator during the summer of 2001 should fix "99 percent" of the difficulties.

According to Michael N. Lichten, director of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Office for Physical Resources, the maintenance of Harvard's elevators is contracted to Thyssen Dover Elevator, which performs a "regular preventative maintenance program" of monthly inspections, as well as interventions during breakdowns.

In addition to the checkups by Thyssen Dover, Cambridge building inspectors test the elevators monthly and the state of Massachusetts certifies them yearly.

The elevator company is not always called in to solve technical problems--Harvard staff are often able to resolve the problem on their own.

For example, when Elizabeth S. Mahler '01 was recently caught in a Holmes elevator, a Harvard University Police Department officer freed her in 10 minutes.

Mahler said shortly after pressing the button for her floor, the elevator went down "half a floor, stopped and jarred." She pressed the emergency telephone button, which she believed would connect her to Harvard's maintenance personnel, but the line was not working. Finally, the police officer freed her by using the elevator's exterior call button to return the elevator to the fourth floor.

According to Mahler, the breakdowns are becoming a concern for residents.

"You think it's not going to happen to you, and then it does," she said.

Conroy and Harkavy's long wait caused some residents to question why the Cambridge Fire Department (CFD) is not called to extricate trapped students.

Some claim the CFD would be able to respond more quickly than the Boston-based Thyssen Dover. And while the company guarantees a response time of less than one hour, Chuck E. Coyne of Harvard Facilities Maintenance said that it usually arrives much faster than that.

According to Lichten, though outright elevator breakdowns are rare, the University replaces two to four elevators per year. However, the time required to rebuild a system often makes it difficult to repair one mid-semester without seriously inconveniencing House residents.

Still, Lichten said, the Office of Physical Resources is open to students' input.

If students were to complain about a problem, "we'd certainly put that high on the list for renovation," he said.

But for now, Pforzheimer residents are looking for ways around the problem.

"We take the stairs now," said Harkavy.