- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Washington Monument’s notoriously finicky elevator likely will be out of commission for nine months because the lift system needs an overhaul, inspectors said.

The elevator has broken 24 times since the monument was reopened in May 2014 after a three-year closure to repair earthquake damage, according to the National Park Service.

On Aug. 17, the park service closed the landmark for the sixth time as maintenance work continued to address mechanical and electrical problems with the elevator. The elevator failed twice in 12 hours, including one incident in which several employees were trapped inside.

The park service originally said it would take 10 days to investigate the problems but on Wednesday told Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, that a diagnosis of the elevator’s underlying deficiencies likely would not be completed until September.

After the investigation, the National Park Service intends to plan a full modernization of the elevator system for the first time in almost 20 years. The effort could require the monument to be closed for eight or nine months. The overhaul will focus on the elevator’s electrical infrastructure, computer system and control panel.

“We are finding ourselves at the end of the life of this system. We know we have to modernize the system,” said Gay Vietzke, superintendent of National Mall and memorial parks.

A single elevator has been transporting tourists to the top of landmark year-round. Ms. Vietzke said those kinds of elevators normally last about 25 years. The monument’s elevator was overhauled in the 1990s, she said, but daily wear had taken its toll.

“I appreciate the thorough briefing by NPS and the transparency it has afforded us on the condition of the Washington Monument’s elevator,” Ms. Norton said. “NPS has now embarked on the appropriate wholesale and comprehensive reconstruction of the elevator that should ensure the end of the frequent breakdowns.”

The delegate said the overhaul should have been completed years ago.

“I believe NPS erred in not rehabilitating the elevator when the monument was closed for renovations following the 2011 earthquake,” she said.

Ms. Norton isn’t happy about the nine-month timeline for the renovations. She is requesting a shorter closure period so more visitors can enjoy the view from the top of the 555-foot obelisk.

“I am requesting that the closure of the monument for the purpose of repairs be completed before next year’s tourist season begins,” she said.

Ms. Vietzke told Ms. Norton that the National Park Service has sufficient funds for the work from donations as well as annual appropriations.

The rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the East Coast on Aug. 23, 2011, caused more than 150 cracks in the Washington Monument. Repairs to the marble structure took about three years to complete and cost about $15 million.

A 2012 damage assessment by engineering firms Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. and Tipping Mar recommended inspecting and repairing the elevator rails and frame before reopening the monument.

“The counterweights were noted to have shifted in the earthquake and one of the bolts holding them together had failed,” the report said. “At a minimum, the counterweights should be realigned and the failed bolt or rod should be replaced.”

No mention was made of damage to the control system, which has caused elevator outages since the monument reopened nearly two years ago.

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