Doing time in the elevator Wait: Frustrated officers and others at police headquarters fume over what many consider the slowest ride in town.

September 19, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The only thing more annoying than waiting for the elevator a the downtown police headquarters building is riding in it.

If it's not the slowest jaunt between floors in Baltimore, it (P certainly has that reputation. Workers are late for meetings. It eats up 20 minutes of a lunch hour. The city pays a retired police officer $4.25 an hour to take people up the (faster) freight elevator.

"It's an intolerable situation," complained Col. Joseph R. Bolesta Jr., a 31-year veteran who oversees maintenance for the 10-story building at Fayette and President streets. "Fighting crime was easy compared to this."

More than 700 workers share one elevator. The other three have been out of service for months. The city upgraded two of them as part of a $20 million renovation, and officials promise they will be running any day. But for now, the state won't let them run because they lack fans, telephones and sprinklers.

The building itself -- completed eight years behind schedule in 1972 after union stoppages, a federal grand jury probe of alleged bribes and kickbacks and a flood that knocked the structure off its foundation -- has been labeled a failure.

The top two floors are sealed off as workers remove asbestos. Air conditioning exists, but every office needs a fan to circulate the air (the windows do not open). The heat shuts down when the lights are turned off.

And in the basement, where evidence is stored, wet, blood-stained clothes taken as evidence from victims of shootings, stabbings and bludgeonings are put in "red bags" and tossed on shelves, where they stay for up to five years.

User.Event 7 was not expected here! Simply put, it stinks down there. "Especially in hot weather," said Capt. Gary P. D'Addario, who runs the place.

But it's the elevator, installed by Haughton Elevator Co., that is the most visible cause of frustration.

'Obsolete' from day one

"The police elevators are the model of inefficiency we use when we want to highlight inefficiency," said Anthony J. Ambridge, the city's real estate officer. "They were obsolete the day they were installed."

Karen Grant of Harford County, a first-time visitor to headquarters Tuesday, boarded the elevator on the first floor, trying to reach the basement. She had to go up to the eighth floor first, then back down -- a 10-minute ride.

"I should have taken the stairs," Grant said. "I don't like elevators. I'm claustrophobic. At least it's a form of entertainment. I just hope my baby and boyfriend are still waiting in the car."

Ask Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who has a plush office on the eighth floor overlooking City Hall and most of downtown, and he launches into a tirade against the forces of bureaucracy.

"If I had the money that was wasted to pay people waiting for the elevator in this building, I could probably hire 50 more police officers," the commissioner said.

"It is outrageous," he continued. "It is the source of unending commentary from members of the business community who come here and complain about the lost time. People are late for meetings. They say, 'I was in your building 20 minutes ago but I couldn't get to your floor.' "

Not only do the workers have to wait a long time to get an elevator, but once on, the car moves slowly and stops frequently.

In a few months, Frazier and others are scheduled to move next door to a $10.8 million annex that promises wall-to-wall carpeting and a fast, pleasant ride between floors.

The Department of Public Works, in charge of fixing the police elevators, won't answer questions or release files on the maintenance history.

Slow elevator contest

Instead of offering a solution, DPW spokesman Robert Murrow suggested a contest to find the slowest elevator in Baltimore.

But virtually every worker at police headquarters will say that theirs, elevator No. 4, is the slowest ride in town.

Jokes and conspiracy theories abound. The "M" on the list of floors doesn't stand for mezzanine, it stands for "millennium, for the next time the elevator will come." And, "Instead of Stairmaster, we have Staircase."

During lunchtime Tuesday, it took just over three minutes for the elevator to go from the first floor to the eighth with a single stop, on three. It takes 20 seconds for the door to open after the lights signal the elevator has arrived on a floor.

Several times, it took about 10 minutes for the elevator to go from floor one to eight and back -- depending on the number of stops.

Adding to the frustration are the lights in the lobby.

Often, the panel shows the elevator on floors four, five and six at the same time. Then the numbers three and five light up. Then it jumps to seven, even though the elevator is descending.

Inside the dingy box is equally confusing. The floor and the lights rarely match.

"You don't even know where you're at," complained Fannie Brown, who works in the budget office on the seventh floor. She said her longest trip between one and seven last week took 15 minutes.

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