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Updated: November 19, 2023 @ 12:33 pm

This article was previously published in The South End’s spring print edition on April 27.
The average elevator at Wayne State is down the equivalent of 36.5 days each year.
WSU has allocated $12,220,956 towards elevators since 2019, according to the Campus Master Plan presented during the March 23 Student Senate meeting. 
Chief Business Officer Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Operations David Massaron said the university changed elevator companies in January 2021, from Switzerland-based company Schindler to Finland-based company KONE. 
Massaron said since the switch, elevator uptime has increased from about 70% reliability, in 2019, to the current rate of 90%.
“Of course that percentage doesn’t mean much to some people because the elevators in their buildings are down,” he said. “We want to make sure every building has reliable service going forward. There’s been a marked improvement on campus of the reliability of elevators, although we still have a long way to go and a number of investments to make.” 
Massaron said it’s standard practice for the university to contract with an international elevator company, as they have regional offices that provide parts and modifications for equipment.
“You usually have long term relationships so they get to know the assets on going forward,” he said. “But like all university contract, it has termination for convenience clauses.”
Massaron said the contract with KONE is for two to three years, and just the relationship is considered “indefinite”. 
Massaron said repair time is usually extended due to parts being discontinued. One example is the upgrade request put in for the elevators at University Towers in October 2022 won’t be finished until May when parts are available.
“When we finish major repairs or overhauls, we also have to go through a regulatory testing process with the city and some of these elevators are old enough that they require additional modifications because the codes changed,” Massaron said. “Or for that testing, we have to shut the power down in the building because they want to test what happens if power goes out.”
Massaron said repairs can also take longer because WSU works on one elevator at a time.
“We have to phase the repairs so that the building is still functional,” Massaron said. “It’s two or three months to do the modification installation for each of the four elevators in that building that were modified.”
WSU hired an outside consultant this March to review the installation and maintenance procedures for elevators in Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments, Massaron said. Corvias, the university’s property management company, has also hired a third-party consultant, Massaron said.
“Elevators in this age should not be having the problems it’s having,” Massaron said. “We wanted to get a national expert that was employed by us to tell us what needed to be done and what may have been done wrong with either the installation or maintenance of this elevator so we can ensure it was fixed and will be reliable going forward.”
Disabled community floored by issues
While the university works to repair the future of its elevators, students with mobility needs require more immediate assistance.
Junior Sana Hasan said though many students express their elevator concerns in the form of passing jokes about getting stuck and concerning noises, the issue is very real. 
“If anyone has needs, it is important that there is some way for them to have mobility without needing to advocate for themselves or wait for a solution,” she said. “As it (WSU) is such a large university, having working elevators seems like an easy first step.” 
Disability Specialist Ryan Wiseman said Student Disability Services sometimes has to switch the locations of classes that originally are located in certain parts of Old Main to more accessible classrooms and buildings to make sure students who have mobility needs have equal opportunities to access their classes.
“If you shut down an entrance to Old Main you shut down an elevator, there’s so many random little stairs everywhere that it just becomes kind of a maze and sometimes completely inaccessible for students,” Wiseman said. 
He said SDS also works with its registered students to move the location of their dorms in the case that elevators consistently make them inaccessible.
Wiseman said those changes include moving classrooms to different buildings, working with maintenance, and working with professors to consider attendance and potential tardiness of a student to make sure students have access to class material if they physically can’t get to class.
“It’s trying to work around the physical infrastructure that we don’t have too much control over,” Wiseman said. “It’s just addressing some of those other barriers to make sure that they (students) are not evaluated based on those things so that their grade isn’t a measure of how accessible the class was to them, but it’s a measure of what they know.” 
Wiseman said students should contact public safety in the case of an emergency or being stuck on a floor, and in non-emergency but inconvenient situations to use the “Report a Barrier” form on SDS’s website to send concerns to SDS and FPM. 
“We’ve unfortunately had situations where students have had to be carried down the stairs to ensure that they could safely exit the structure,” Wiseman said. “They’ll get there no matter the situation. They’ll get students out of where they need to go safely, and then from there, it’s about following up to see if this is an isolated incident or if there is something that we need to change to make sure that this isn’t gonna happen again.”
Moving in the right direction
Both Massaron and Wiseman said the future looks optimistic due to the new contract with Kone.
In their first full-year of operations on campus in 2022, the number of elevator trouble calls fell from 870, in 2019 under Schindler, to 260, according to the Campus Master Plan.
“There’s a lot of optimism with the new vendor and with our new system,” Wiseman said. “There are updates and reports that they’re able to access live and there’s a lot more visibility and transparency and likability for accountability for those things.”
Both Hasan and Wiseman said they wanted to see more transparency regarding the timeline of the fixes. Hasan said it would be helpful if a plan and/or expected fix date were included on the out of order signs.
“If you’re experiencing the material reality of inaccessibility and you don’t see the work, and it often feels like it’s not being done,” Wiseman said. “Being transparent in timelines in terms of plans I think could be helpful.”
Wiseman encouraged students to use their voices and said that the students communicating their stake in the issue has been an important component to the improvements thus far.
“Students just need to keep being vocal about it and sustain this,” Wiseman said. “I believe they’re addressing it, but it’s communicating the urgency of it and how important it is to us and how we need to have a solid foundation of trust and functioning of these things just to operate as a university.”
Natalie Davies is The South End’s managing editor. She can be reached at
Cover photo by Jack Thomas.
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