Campus Renewal

UND construction, planning and restoration updates.

Going up: Maintaining UND’s elevators

At UND, monthly inspections and prioritized upgrades keep elevators working and campus buildings accessible

Jeff Manske, academic maintenance lead, left, and Jim Weber, academic maintenance shop supervisor, examine an elevator emergency panel as part of their work maintaining UND’s academic buildings, including its dozens of elevators. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

Two hundred fifty-seven thousand. That’s the number of times one elevator went up or down in UND’s Memorial Union.

Now multiply that by about 100 or so — or even more, considering the Memorial Union elevators are only four years old.

But it doesn’t take a calculator to know the 100-plus elevators on UND’s campus provide a vital function that makes life, work and learning more accessible.

“A lot of people don’t realize how important elevators are,” said Kevin Fruhwirth, assistant director for facilities maintenance.

Fruhwirth oversees five maintenance shops on campus, including academic maintenance – meaning nearly every building that isn’t used for housing.

“Not only do we need to provide accessibility for those working and learning in our buildings, but we also have maintainers and technicians who need to move a lot of heavy equipment and supplies,” Fruhwirth remarked. “I would guess that out of all institutions and organizations in North Dakota, we might have the most elevators in operation.”

From Fruhwirth’s vantage point, that translates to 90 elevators. The others on campus, specifically in UND’s housing units, are managed separately by Johnson Controls, and bring the grand total to 108.

Safe yet complex machines

How does UND keep that number steady, making sure elevators are “going up” across dozens of buildings used year-round?

Due to the technical complexity of these machines, of which at UND there are several varieties, models and modes of operation, the University contracts with Schindler Elevator to perform monthly maintenance and respond to outages.

“If we have an elevator issue, it’s either reported by building staff or by the technician, who may find something wrong with it and take it offline,” Fruhwirth said. “From there, we keep in touch with those affected and with people responsible for accessibility on campus.”

Fruhwirth stressed there is no reason to fear: elevators are extremely redundant and safe systems, he said, and 95% of issues can be attributed to the doors, whether it’s a sensor malfunction, an issue with the opening/closing mechanism or an obstruction in the door’s tracks.

If a UND technician can’t immediately identify a basic fix, it’s left to the contracted specialists. A specialist then evaluates the issue and works with Facilities Management to identify any necessary parts, as well as a quote for the labor necessary to fix it.

Kevin Fruhwirth, assistant director for facilities maintenance, left, regularly meets with Elijah Clark, a technician from Schindler Elevator, right, to discuss campus elevator maintenance and updates. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

Though UND’s relationship with contractors maintains mobility, it’s up to the University — on the recommendations of Facilities Management — to decide how and when to modernize its elevators.

As buildings on campus age, replacement parts for elevators become harder to find. Manufacturers stop producing parts for older models, resulting in sometimes extensive searches for what quickly become expensive fixes.

And even without the scarcity problem, the cost of an elevator can raise eyebrows when it comes to the question of deferred maintenance — a common phrase to those familiar with UND’s approach in years past to campus renewal. In other words, what is it going to cost to make upgrades and fixes to extend a building’s lifespan?

Fruhwirth can attest to the impact elevators have on that question. Each biennium, he and his team manage a budget of around $300,000 to address a prioritized list of elevator upgrades and fixes. Of note, this budget for elevators is separate from new campus construction projects operating on individual budgets and funding structures.

The goal is to make sure there’s always a fix on-hand or within reach for a critical outage.

Fruhwirth, looking at a tidy Excel spreadsheet inventory of 90 elevators, highlights recent projects in green; work was completed at the North Dakota Museum of Art in late 2023 and will soon start on Clifford Hall. The remainder of the “Top 10” are ordered mainly by the fact replacement parts are hard to come by.

“Budget is the No. 1 driver,” Fruhwirth said, when asked about the goals of the modernization effort. “Depending on the elevator’s age and how it operates, replacing just one could use up our budget for the whole biennium.”

Jeff Manske at the elevator control panel for Odegard Hall. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

To keep UND’s future elevators from being prohibitively expensive to maintain and upgrade, the University adjusted its design standards to encourage nonproprietary installations — meaning the elevators aren’t solely the product of one of the major elevator manufacturers.

Many of UND’s elevators were made by either Schindler, Otis or ThyssenKrupp, according to Fruhwirth; but this dynastic structure dispersed in recent decades, providing a more competitive marketplace for UND to bid out elevators for new constructions. And, when it comes to replacement parts, the flexibility of nonproprietary hardware is great for the biennial budget.

“Both approaches have equal dependability,” Fruhwirth said. “Where it helps UND is when it comes to how much it costs to replace proprietary parts. There’s a certain upcharge with these major manufacturers — a nonproprietary focus helps us spend wisely on priority projects.”

UND also keeps an inventory of spare parts on-hand, including recycled components from demolished campus buildings. Salvage is an important part of the demolition process, especially if other elevators on campus could one day use the parts and save the budget for more unique or urgent situations.

Just as UND has a roadmap for its existing spaces to build its future, so does Facilities’ elevator modernization plan.

“To have a plan moving forward is really important,” he said. “We’re picking out the right elevators and we’re spending our money wisely, at the right time.”