August 15, 2011 | last updated March 25, 2012 12:48 pm
FLOORED

State Requires Some Costly Elevator Fixes | $300K to upgrade lifts for some Worcester firms

More than a dozen Worcester business owners are faced with making costly upgrades to their freight elevators after a deadline set by the state four years ago expired on July 1.

The businesses could be forced to pay anywhere from $50,000 to more than $300,000 to upgrade their elevators, which contain wooden components that were banned under a 2006 revision to the state's elevator code.

Going Up

Jamie Ginsburg, general manager of Arrow Wholesale, said upgrading the five-story elevator in his company's Water Street building would cost more than $300,000, according to a quote he received in 2007. That price would include masonry work because the building would require a new elevator shaft.

He said the elevator is vital to the company's operation and that there has never been any kind of elevator accident in the 30 years he has worked there.

"We occupy all five floors and we have merchandise on all floors," Ginsburg said. "I'm not carrying it, that's for sure."

Ginsburg said that state inspectors first told him in 2007 that he would have to upgrade his elevator, but he has not done so because of the cost.

"We were hoping they would allow us to keep using it as is," he said.

But it isn't looking that way.

A July 1 deadline has passed, and now Ginsburg and a dozen other property owners are applying for variances with the Board of Elevator Regulations, which is overseen by the state Department of Public Safety.

And though the businesses hope to be grandfathered in under previous regulations, Rep. Vincent Pedone, D-Worcester, said that state officials have said that may be unlikely.

In 2007, the department gave property owners four years to comply with the regulation, but a group of businesses have not because of the high cost, he said.

"The long and the short of it is that they have to come into compliance with the regulation if they're going to continue to use the elevators," Pedone said.

Pedone, representatives of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, and several other area legislators met recently with the Department of Public Safety in Boston, a meeting that included Commissioner Thomas Gatzunis, to ask for extensions or alternative solutions for the business owners.

Michael Lanava, the chamber's director of government affairs and public policy, said that the chamber wants to help the affected businesses because the required upgrades represent a significant percentage of the property values and could even put some owners out of business.

"We're concerned this may put them over the edge," Lanava said.

The elevators in question are used only by employees of the businesses and are often used to move materials or freight. They are not used by the public.

Lanava said that a possible cheaper alternative for some of the businesses is to convert their freight elevators to vertical reciprocating conveyors, or VRCs, which transport only materials. A human operator controls the lift from the outside.

Property owners who ignore warnings from the state and continue to use elevators could face fines of $1,000 per day. But Pedone said that nearly all of the affected businesses in Worcester have applied to the state for a variance and can continue to use their elevators until the matter is resolved.

He said that state officials told him that the hearings should all be scheduled by September.

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