Stearns “Hellevator”: Abandon hope all ye who enter here


Hannah McMahon

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

Imagine going into Stearns and using the elevator and it suddenly stops with you inside. On multiple occasions during the past few months, a short trip between floors turned into something somewhat longer. For sophomore Wilbur Hayes, the experience, while memorable, was less than pleasant.

“It was claustrophobic to say the least,” Hayes said. “Although we were on the first floor and were perfectly safe, it was scary nonetheless. There was a group of five of us stuck in the elevator and funnily enough, there was a small group of girls on the other side of the door. They were talking with us and made us laugh, played music from the other side and I actually held one of the girls’ hands as we were able to pry the door open just enough to reach a single hand through.”

Hayes is among a small but apparently growing group of students who have experienced being stuck in the Stearns elevator.

“I was starting to freak out, “said Faith Mead. “I was like, ‘Bro. We just got stuck in the elevator didn’t we?’ and then one of my other friends was like, ‘Yeah.’ And then he started pressing all of the buttons on the elevator, but it didn’t move. We ended up having to call public safety. It took them 15 minutes to get there. There were like 3 people in the elevator that were having a panic attack while I was just trying to stay calm.”

Mead summed up her experience in three words: “Panic. Anxiety. Stress.”

Problems with the Stearns elevator are not new, and the approximately 10-year-old installation has had its ups and downs lately, beginning last fall in September with recurrences in October and November.

The problem appeared to be elusive at first. “Until November 26, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. I had a suspicion that it had something to do with the hydraulics and then confirmed that when I talked to Brian Halls, the Director of Facilities,” said Michael Palagonia, director of public safety on the NVU-Johnson campus in a Basement Interview in late November.

According to Palagonia, the hydraulics in this particular elevator make fixing it a bit more complicated than the other elevators on campus, “From what I understand from talking to our electrician, this particular elevator is using multiple hydraulic systems and it got out of balance,” he said. Palagonia said he believed the faulty part had been replaced, allowing the elevator to return to normal function.

During that November interview, Palagonia addressed student concerns about access to and throughout the building if the elevator is not functioning. He noted that Stearns is a very accessible building even without the elevator.

“Stearns is situated so that there is the ability to access every level through either an emergency door or another ground level entrance,” he said. So there is the capability to get someone in a wheelchair or that otherwise can’t use stairs, into any floor of that building. But it does require communication because some of those doors aren’t normally used for egress.”

Referring to the September incident when somebody had been trapped in the elevator, Palagonia said, “We [Public Safety] got over there pretty quickly. I was over there trying to figure out what was going on, so I went to the floor above and the floor below where the elevator was stuck and I was able to just push buttons and eventually it moved again. I then contacted facilities, they contacted the elevator company and it seemed to work until October, when there was another issue with the elevator.”

Palagonia emphasized that in all cases of elevator malfunction, Public Safety has been able to open the doors within 20 minutes. He also noted that Public Safety is on duty twenty-four seven and that the emergency phones in the elevators are being tested very frequently.

“That particular elevator [Stearns] phone we’re making sure is working,” he said. “So that’s getting tested weekly so students should know that we’re here if something happens, we’re going to be over there and we’re going to get someone called in if we can’t figure it out.”

The elevator functioned normally following the November repair, but problems again surfaced in January, when the lift became stuck again, this time the suspected cause having been determined as a faulty electrical switch.