May’s Elevator Free-Fall Prompts Concern and Questions for Upcoming Year

By: Molly Meisels  |  August 27, 2019

By Molly Meisels, Editor in Chief

When Shifra Lindenberg, SSSB ‘20, fell four stories in a Brookdale Residence Hall elevator in May, many members of the student body were outraged. Elevators throughout the Yeshiva University campuses have been out of service, breaking down, and trapping students for years, inconveniencing most and acting as a debilitating obstacle for some. But when Lindenberg experienced what she claims to be a “free fall” in the 20-story residence hall, which houses most incoming students, parents and students were alarmed. What is currently most concerning to YU community members is that the accident gave Lindenberg a concussion which she is still suffering from. 

Jonathan Lewis, YC ’16, is not surprised by this turn of events. In the 2015-2016 academic year, he got stuck in the Morgenstern Residence Hall elevator – the residence hall housing male upperclassmen. He did not panic at first. Lewis told the Observer, “[I decided to] press the phone button… no answer…[I] call[ed] security on my cell phone…no answer. I needed to call my friend in the library to fetch a security officer to radio someone over to rescue me.” After being rescued, the guard disclosed to Lewis that the “elevator ha[d] been having problems for a while, yet it was still running.” The YU alumnus wonders what would have occurred had there been a medical emergency.

Besides for students getting stuck and suffering from head injuries, the constantly malfunctioning elevators negatively impact students with disabilities. Yeshiva University’s Student Bill of Rights says that “students who are otherwise qualified to attend the University have the right to reasonable accommodation of their physical or learning disabilities as provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act.” A recent Stern graduate who developed muscular atrophy in her left knee while at Stern, believes that the constantly broken elevators do not conform to this rule. During the past academic year, two of the three 245 Lexington Ave elevators were out of service for a bulk of the year. 245 Lexington is one of two academic buildings for the Beren campus. Due to its foot-traffic, when its elevators are out of service, the efficiency of the institution declines. 

The Stern College alumnus was frustrated for much of the 2018-2019 academic year. She says, “I had to get to the school building half an hour early for my 9 a.m. class to make sure I got in the elevator…sometimes I had to walk up to the fourth floor…because I couldn’t get a spot…” 

The Observer asked Yeshiva University Facilities if anything would be changing for the upcoming semester. Randy Apfelbaum, Chief Facilities and Administrative Officer, says, “The safety of our students is of utmost priority…YU has been making significant investments in building infrastructure…Over this past summer, every elevator has received an upgrade to its door locking mechanism.” In response to parents’ concerns over Lindenberg’s May incident, Apfelbaum says that Lindenberg did not “‘free fall’ as reported… [the incident] was the result of the malfunction of the system that tells the elevator computer which floor the car is located.” This report contradicts Lindenberg’s, as Apfelbaum further states that “Elevators, including the Brookdale cars, have multiple redundant safety systems…to ensure that it cannot ‘free fall’.”

However, Lindenberg’s account is not the only instance of an elevator dropping at Yeshiva University. In mid-July at Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University’s graduate institution, a first-year student got stuck in an elevator and experienced what she called a “free fall.” The medium-sized elevator contained seven Cardozo students and the elevator repairman himself, who just claimed to have fixed the infamously broken elevator. She says, “We went up a couple of floors, but when the door was supposed to open, it didn’t…Unfortunately, though, the elevator started to rumble a bit, and then began to free fall, luckily not falling more than a floor or two. The elevator repairman kept saying that it was ‘just working when I tested it’… frantically pressing the buzzer and call buttons, but they weren’t working.” The student interviewed suffered an anxiety attack due to the event.

Students believe that events like these should not be occurring anywhere, least of all at a university, especially since, as Apfelbaum quoted to the Observer, YU hired a new elevator maintenance contractor in late winter — Schindler Elevator. 

However, Schindler Elevator has had various maintenance issues in the past. On May 31st, 17 New Yorkers were trapped in an elevator managed by Schindler at the new Q-train 72nd Street station. The ten escalators at the 72nd Street station, also managed by Schindler, “experienced 83 outages on average over…[a] 15-month period.” NY1 reported that the MTA expressed frustration with the company. 

With that being said, students care less about Schindler and more about how the elevators will run this academic year. They hope that elevator malfunctions will be the least of their college woes.