The Escalation of the Escalator Crisis

In December, an unannounced inspection was done on all the escalators by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) and tiny chips were discovered underneath the steps of the escalators. The DOB concluded that every step with any chips needed to be replaced before the escalators were allowed to operate again, save for the two-to-four and four-to-two escalators, which must undergo complete replacement.

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On September 13, a step on the four-to-two escalator popped out, causing the escalator to speed up and partially collapse. Ten students were injured as a result of this accident. All of the escalators in Stuyvesant were temporarily shut down, and students were let out of classes at the warning bell to accommodate for the increased travel time between classes. This incident has led to further concerns about the escalators, which were eventually closed down for repair.

For almost two weeks after the September incident, the escalators were closed while two independent contractors inspected them. After the initial inspection, all of the escalators were reopened, with the exception of the two-to-four and four-to-two escalators. However, in December, an unannounced inspection was done on all of the escalators by the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB), and tiny chips were discovered underneath the steps of the escalators. The DOB concluded that every step with any chips needed to be replaced before the escalators were allowed to operate again.

All of the new steps arrived over the holiday break, but the installment was postponed due to the delayed arrival of the external company responsible for making the repairs. Though all the even-numbered escalators are still awaiting repair, the odd-numbered escalators are now open for use. “The ones that are now opened have been inspected by the DOB,” Principal Eric Contreras said.

Unlike the other escalators, however, the four-to-two and two-to-four escalators will be shut off until further notice. Even though only one side of the escalator malfunctioned, the entire escalator unit has to be replaced. An escalator replacement is a much larger task than replacing escalator steps and cannot occur until a school break when students are not in the building for an extended period of time. “My guess would be that summer break is the break that’s long enough to do [the replacement] because they would have to barricade the entire area and put in a new escalator,” Contreras said.

The escalator repairs are not being funded through Stuyvesant’s budget but by the School Construction Authority, an agency managed by the NYC Department of Education (DOE). “My understanding is that it’s not from the school budget for when they build new schools or when they do major projects in buildings that are necessary,” Contreras said. “I would imagine that the escalators are significantly more than any school budget annually and they come from the capital improvement projects, which is from the School Construction Authority.”

Even before these issues arose, the escalators were in poor condition. “These are considered extremely archaic, and you can definitely tell that they’re old just by seeing how often they break,” Student Union President William Wang said. Oftentimes, certain escalators have stopped functioning midday. Despite this, the escalators did not seem to have any major issues.

Before the incident in September, the escalators were being inspected regularly. “The Division of School Facilities (DSF) have [monthly checks]. Formal checks are done annually by the DOB, so there are checks and balances between the two agencies,” Contreras said.

He expects this inspection cycle to be kept the same even after the incident. “I believe they’ll maintain their regular inspection cycle: one monthly on the DSF and then yearly on the DOB,” Contreras said.

Because the inspection was unannounced, both Contreras and the Student Union (SU) have limited information regarding the escalators. “We’ve refrained from sending out an actual e-mail about the escalators because we were actually kept away from information, so we can’t explain in a detailed matter how the escalators broke or when [they] will be back up,” Wang said.

In addition to a lack of information, social media also contributed to the communication difficulties between the SU and the student body regarding the escalators. “Some students, especially on Facebook, stated that all of the escalators could be shut down for the entire school year. That is just not true […]. We’ve been trying to keep things civil, especially with social media comments, but rumors spread and we can only try so hard to stop them,” Wang said.

When all the escalators were under maintenance, traffic in the staircases significantly increased. “The stairs are a huge problem when getting to class because they are jam-packed with kids every single period,” sophomore Rafael Chociej said.

Though many students were able to adjust to this change, Stuyvesant is not meant to be navigated solely by walking up flights of staircases. Contreras addressed that unlike most schools, which are short and wide, Stuyvesant’s building is tall and narrow. Thus, the building has space for only three staircases, making it difficult for the 3,600 students and staff to maneuver.

Contreras considered several solutions, including a modified bell schedule for students to be able to get to class on time. However, a modified bell schedule was Contreras’s last resort as it would have resulted in a loss of instructional time. “A modified schedule […] could [mean losing] one more question on an exam or one more topic that is important for the end-of-the-year assessment, be it an AP, a Regents, a unit,” Contreras said.

For many, taking the stairs has been an inconvenience, but several students feel that having to take the stairs to class proved to be beneficial to them. Sophomore Michelangelo Pagan revealed that his attendance has improved due to the escalators being under maintenance. “Ever since the escalators have been [under] maintenance, I’ve been getting to class on time in comparison to when they weren't. For example, I have to go from the fourth floor to the 10th floor to get to European Literature. Normally I would get there one to two minutes late, but now I focus on getting there on time,” Pagan said.

Looking ahead, Contreras hopes to provide a long-term solution to the constant issue of broken escalators. The escalators have been around since before 1992, and in the long run, they may not be adequate for use. “In the long term, these new steps don’t resolve the ongoing repair issues,” Contreras said. Contreras believes that a complete replacement of all of the escalators may be a better investment than just fixing the steps.

Contreras recently put forward a formal request to the School Construction Authority for a full replacement of escalators. “We’re going to advocate for completely new escalators as capital improvement. I am working on all fronts to resolve this both short-term and long-term,” Contreras said.