City Council "Shafted" About Elevator Conditions

By Rachel Martin

January 31, 2012 Updated Jan 31, 2012 at 11:42 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Fort Wayne City Council grants the request from the city and City Redevelopment Commission in a special meeting Tuesday night for nearly $1 million for new elevators in Citizens Square, just weeks after requesting $815,000 in building cost over-runs. Council members questioned why the elevators weren’t upgraded sooner.

A "big elevator surprise,” that's how City Council President, Tom Smith, referred to controversy over new elevators for Citizens Square. Smith questioned City Controller, Pat Roller, and Commission Executive Director, Greg Leatherman, about whether they knew the condition of the elevators when Citizens Square was bought in Dec. 2009. Smith says the extra $950,000 is a “glaring mistake” on the city’s part and that he finds it “hard to believe” no one knew the elevators were in such poor shape before now.

The city requested an extra $815,000 to pay for overage costs a few weeks ago. Smith says buying and moving into Citizens Square is costing more than originally planned. He says the city’s now over-budget by $1.5 million. Roller says actually, the renovation was under-budget, because the $815,000 is for move-in costs. Roller says City Council was aware of the additional move-in costs, but didn’t know how much because it was something that could not be estimated.

Roller told the council that during the renovations in 2010, the elevators passed a state inspection and Fort Wayne officials were told the elevators were considered safe and operational for another four to five years. She says it wasn't until after the opening of Citizen’s Square in April 2011, that they began to malfunction due to heavy usage. However, the city concluded the elevators could be maintained for $10,000 a month until they came across a way to pay for upgrades. Smith says council wasn’t notified of that information.

“Obviously the city knew something because they had these time estimates, 'it's going to last 3 to 5 years' etc.,” Smith said. “I just hope that we never have to go through a situation like this again where that kind of information is withheld from council.”

There have been reports of people getting stuck inside the elevators. In fact, Marty Bender, R-At Large, shared at Tuesday night’s meeting, that a couple weeks ago, a woman had a heart emergency at Citizens Square. But, due to the poor operation of the elevators, the woman and EMT’s were stuck inside an elevator for six and half minutes on the fourth floor. Council members all agreed the elevators need to be fixed because they pose as a safety hazard.

Smith says if council knew ahead of time, it could've been accounted for in the original renovation budget. Roller says at the time, they couldn’t afford elevator upgrades, especially since they passed state inspection. Even then, Roller says each of the five elevators would’ve had to be fixed one by one instead of all together. She says it's more cost effective to spend nearly $1 million to upgrade them all at once, instead of paying a greater amount to “phase them in.”

Funding will come from old taxpayer dollars in an account manned by the Redevelopment Commission. The cost could go down after the city finds a contractor in two to three months and installation begins.

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