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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Elevator parts are available after all

StoryChat: Comment on this story

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

For more than three months, one of two elevators serving residents at the 221-unit Kalakaua Homes public housing project has been out of service because state officials and a private repair company mistakenly believed that a replacement part was unavailable.

A national distributor of elevator parts told The Advertiser that it has nine of the replacement parts in stock, priced at $500 to $600 apiece.

When Michael Tomihara, head of the company under contract to repair elevators in state-owned public housing projects, was told of the availability of the parts, he contacted the distributor and confirmed the item was in stock.

"I don't know what to say. I verified today that they have nine in stock," Tomihara said.

Tomihara said the mix-up occurred because of a miscommunication between his company and the parts distribution company.

The delay in repairing the elevator at Kalakaua Homes even when parts were available illustrates the frustration many residents of public housing projects have been experiencing.

Nine of 35 elevators in several public housing projects nearly 25 percent have been out of service for months, resulting in long waits for elderly and disabled tenants and creating serious health and safety dangers at the facilities.

At Kalakaua Homes, one of two elevators serving hundreds of residents has been out of service since March 19.

NO IMMEDIATE REPAIRS

Despite the availability of parts for the Kalakaua Homes elevator, the state has no immediate plans to repair them. The state has lost confidence in Tomihara and his company, Hawaii Vertical Transportation Inc., and has decided not to attempt more repairs until a new company can be selected.

"Past performance indicates satisfactory repair is unlikely to occur," said Derek Fujikami, the Hawai'i Public Housing Authority engineer in charge of a project to repair and modernize elevators. "We requested HVT (Hawaii Vertical Transportation) to stop current repair work on the nine elevators that have been out of service for long periods, because HVT has not made significant progress on these elevators."

Hawaii Vertical Transportation was awarded a $375,318 non-bid contract last year to repair and maintain elevators in various public housing projects. The contract is due to expire at the end of this month.

PATIENCE REQUESTED

The state is now considering whether "to hire another elevator company to repair these elevators on an emergency basis if necessary," Fujikami said.

Fujikami did not say when the elevators might be fixed, but he said last week that it might take three months to accomplish the repairs.

"We ask the residents for their continued patience as we try to get aging elevators to function reliably," Fujikami said yesterday.

Tomihara said "the state told us last week to cease all repair work."

"Because so many elevators are down, they (the state) just want me to stop," Tomihara said yesterday. "I think they blame me for the problems."

Hawaii Vertical has another $50,000 nonbid "emergency" contract to repair broken elevators at Kuhio Park Terrace, the largest public housing project in the state. That contract expires in October.

Four of six elevators at Kuhio Park Terrace are out of service.

REPORT CRITICAL

Hawaii Vertical Transportation began working on public housing elevators in 2005 after the state canceled an existing contract with another firm. A consultant report in 2005 found "that maintenance work is not satisfactory and that significant systems related to passenger safety have been ignored or 'pieced together.' "

Fujikami said yesterday he did not know why the replacement part for the Kalakaua Homes out-of-service elevator could not be located.

Tomihara said that when one of his company employees called Unitek Parts Co., the national distributor for Otis parts based in Connecticut, earlier this year, he was told that that part "is no longer made, it's not available, it's obsolete."

Reach Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com.