Ponderosa Maple house elevator experiences a "fall"

Elevator malfunctions have now befallen both Ponderosa houses in the residential complex on campus. 

Over the last academic year, the host of problems plaguing Ponderosa Commons, which opened in 2013, has become a running gag among the general student community. For residents, though, that joke was their home.

Ponderosa has seen over 40 noteworthy maintenance issues, according to a spreadsheet from Student Housing and Hospitality Services obtained by The Ubyssey through a freedom of information act request. Some of these were commonplace, such as a fire alarm going off when there was no fire, but they extend to “room entry possible by other cards” and “no hot water in building.”

Then there were the students stuck in elevators.

One resident described getting stuck in an Arbutus elevator, which free-fell one floor, in a public Facebook post. “The elevator reached the 16th floor and it was about to open and instead it fell an entire floor,” the student wrote last January.

Emilee Northwood, a resident of Maple House, had a similar experience as recently as September 13.

“I live on the eighth floor and then I pressed the elevator like I was going down ... basically, it kind of free fell a floor,” Northwood told The Ubyssey. She said the elevator’s strange behaviour didn’t end there. “Then it sent me back up the eighth floor again [and then] took me down to the end floor.” 

Northwood said these incidences are “concerning” in terms of residence safety. However, a representative from Kone, which manufactured the Ponderosa elevators, said "free fall" may be the wrong way to term these incidences. 

According to Kone spokesman Patrick O'Connell, guides along the elevator shaft tell the elevator when a floor is being approached. If for some reason the elevator can’t find the appropriate guide, it will skip to the closest one.

“[It] is very rare and almost never happens, but it’s going to calibrate back down to that [last floor] and that’s where you might actually feel the sensation of coming down — but you’re never falling,” said O’Connell, noting that student safety has never actually been in jeopardy. 

Managing Director of Student Housing and Hospitality Andrew Parr acknowledged, “It’s not a pleasant situation for somebody who rides and we’re completely empathetic to that and equally frustrated with the students about the challenges of this elevator.”

That frustration is partially because Ponderosa elevators are notorious for more than giving their occupants a scare — the elevators were out of service before the January's fall and then were closed again in March.

“There’s been times when the elevator’s been broken for three months. And then also they’d have random days …  where the elevator’s been out of service,” noted Northwood.

According to Parr, residence elevators get more use than most elevators, which “requires greater preventative maintenance programs that typical residential or office building type elevators would require.” 

When asked whether the elevators in Ponderosa are out of service more frequently than others due to maintenance inspections, Parr said, “We all recognize the elevators at the Ponderosa phase 1 are a greater problem than our other elevators for sure. There’s no doubt about that and we’re monitoring those more closely.”

Parr also noted that this is uncommon situation and that they “are putting a tremendous amount of pressure on Kone to do a deeper diagnosis on this to determine why this continues to repeat itself.” 

That diagnosis has yet to yield any answers. As for Arbutus, once a proper inspection was underway Parr said that “literally thousands of trips” were ran and no fault was found. The elevator was put back into service only after  the tests were complete and they elevators were approved. 

According to O’Connell the most common explanations for malfunctions is an error in installation of the floor guides. However, O’Connell also said that this is something they would discover very quickly after installation. 

Jake Mullan was president of the Ponderosa Commons Residence Association when the elevators first experienced problems last January. According to Mullan, the elevator wasn’t taken out of service for an appropriate amount of time after it fell, which he called “deplorable." 

“Magically in the morning, my vice president and I awoke and the elevator was back working again and then they said, 'Oh shoot, it shouldn’t be,' and then they turned it off again,” said Mullan, adding that it was opened without inspection by government safety inspectors which violated protocol. 

Parr confirmed that protocol dictates that a malfunctioning elevator is to be taken out of service and poor communication led to the elevator being reopened prematurely.

"What I can I say? It was an error made at that time," Parr said, noting that proper protocol was followed in the September incident.

As for Ponderosa Phase 2, Parr said they will not be using the same Kone elevators that were used in Maple and Arbutus due to a change in contractors. 

“Phase 1 and phase 2 were treated as two separate projects from a tendering perspective. We actually have a different general contractor on the two projects,” said Parr.

UBC Properties Trust manages the tendering process, but were unavailable for comment at this time as the man involved with the Ponderosa project is on vacation.

According to O’Connell, it would be possible to replace the elevators but he couldn’t give an estimate as to what this would cost as it varies from building to building.

In the meantime, we have yet to hear any rumors that residents want a slide built in Maple.