By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires
Minneapolis — As if high vacancies and a lousy economy weren’t bad enough, Minnesota building owners and managers face another challenge: costly upgrades to bring their elevators up to code.
A state elevator code that took effect in January 2007 gave owners five years to comply with certain safety-related provisions, which means they have another 16 months to make sure their lifts are code-compliant.
Failure to comply “within the required time period will result in the elevator being removed from service until such work has been completed,” according to Minnesota’s elevator code statute.
For building owners who have put off the necessary upgrades, which can cost in the six-figure range, the clock is ticking toward that January 2012 deadline.
And the timing is less than ideal.
“With the condition of the economy, funds are short,” said Kent Warden, executive vice president of the Building Owners and Managers Association’s Minneapolis chapter. “So it’s a little difficult.”
One concern is that some code work may qualify as an alteration of the system, which would trigger the need for more work under the code. Warden said state relief may be available.
“But the main concern we have been hearing is with the economy as soft as it is and vacancies increasing and so forth,” building owners are “not really well-positioned to make that kind of investment right now,” Warden said.
The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry oversees elevator code compliance.
The new requirements are all about safety, according to James Honerman, Minnesota DOLI communications director.
For example, one of the biggest changes relates to hydraulic cylinders. Specifically, hydraulic cylinders installed before 1972 need to be replaced and cylinders on hydraulic elevators must have a safety bulkhead.
Over time, corrosion and electrolysis can damage the cylinders, creating a safety risk, said Bill Reinke, head of the state’s elevator safety section. The safety bulkhead at the bottom of the cylinder “prevents you from coming down at an uncontrolled rate,” he said.
Another code provision that requires compliance by January 2012 involves a device that prevents elevator users from opening the doors when the car is more than 18 inches from the floor.
The door-restrictor device ensures that elevator riders will remain in the safest place — inside the car — in the event of a power failure.
Dave Aaserud, business manager for the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 9, which covers Minnesota, North Dakota, and western Wisconsin, said the code compliance has generated a lot of work for his members.
“Pretty much all the other locals throughout the U.S. that have memberships our size or larger are looking at 25 percent unemployment, and we would be at that too without the compliance,” Aaserud said.
Over the past two years, the local union averaged about 15 percent unemployment, he said, but it’s now down to 1 percent.
Aaserud said the elevator work has taken off in the past three months, but he doesn’t expect any trouble meeting the upcoming demand.
“We pretty much can handle any demand now,” he said. “Our brothers are laid off in other locations and coming here to work. They are all trained in this. So it’s unfortunate for them that they are laid off in those numbers, but all we have to do is make a phone call and we can get as many people as we need.”