3 weeks, 8 stories: Norton Hall residents still waiting on elevator fix

Ruby Sapia/Staff

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The only elevator at Norton Hall, an eight-story campus residence building in Unit 3, has been out of service since late October.

The broken elevator has frustrated many residents who say that they must now walk up and down dozens of flights of stairs a day. Everyday necessities such as eating, going to class or doing laundry have become challenging and time-consuming tasks, according to some residents. But for residents with conditions such as asthma, injuries or disabilities, the shuttered elevator has infringed on their mobility.

One of those residents is campus freshman and Norton resident Kevin Truong. Truong, who has dwarfism, uses a motor scooter to get around campus. Truong said he walks up five to 10 flights of stairs a day, although his doctors advise him not to overuse his legs because they are prone to dislocation.

Truong’s scooter cannot make it up the stairs, so he leaves it in the ground floor lobby. Without his scooter on his floor, Truong says using the bathroom has become more difficult. Truong can no longer do laundry by himself and must now ask friends to help him.

“A lot of things are hard in my life, but I’ve learned to deal with it,” Truong said. “I don’t like asking people for help, so when something like this happens, I just deal with it and move on.”

Campus has offered to move Truong to more accessible housing, but Truong declined because he wished to remain with friends he had made on his floor. Truong insisted that he “(doesn’t) have it as bad” as people living on higher floors.

Residents say the elevator has regularly broken down since September and has occasionally trapped residents inside. On Oct. 30, at which point the elevator had been out of service for about a week, according to residents, Unit 3 administrators sent an email estimating that the elevator would be out of service for seven to 10 days.

According to the email, after replacing a different part of the elevator, contractors discovered a separate malfunction in the elevator’s drive system. Because the drive system is no longer manufactured, it needed to be removed and shipped to a specialist on the East Coast for service, according to the email. Residents say they did not see anyone service the elevator until Thursday morning.

The campus is aware of the the faulty elevator and anticipates that it will be fixed by the end of this week, according to spokesperson Adam Ratliff. Ratliff said the campus recognizes that the elevator, which was built in the 1960s, has become “increasingly difficult to maintain and repair.” He said the campus’s contractor is working on a “permanent solution” but could not offer any solution that was being considered.

The faulty elevator is not a new issue, according to past Norton Hall resident and campus junior Kodiak Berkoff. Berkoff said the elevator regularly broke down when he lived in Norton during the fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters. Berkoff, who lived on the seventh floor, broke his foot during his freshman year and was on crutches for about two weeks. Berkoff said he regularly had to climb all seven stories during that time because of the faulty elevator.

Berkoff said he was frustrated with the campus’s slow response to fixing the elevator as well as other conditions in Norton that made living with crutches even more uncomfortable.

“Trying to shower with crutches was really hard. I just had to stand on one foot because the conditions were so gross and I didn’t want to lean on anything,” Berkoff said. “The living standards met the bare minimum. It was like the university said, ‘We gave you just the bare minimum so that you can’t complain.’ … There was no haste to fix these problems.”

Stephen Rosenbaum, a visiting researcher scholar at the campus Haas Institute, John & Elizabeth Boalt Lecturer at Berkeley Law (strikeout intended by Rosenbaum) and an expert in disability rights, said in an email that while the law is not explicit on what steps must be taken when an elevator is in disrepair, there is an “overarching commonsense principle” that structural barriers to mobility — such as the faulty elevator — must be removed in public areas when their removal is “readily achievable” or when it can be removed “without much difficulty or expense.”

According to Rosenbaum, “readily achievable” steps include expedited repair service for the elevator, immediate and targeted contact between campus and students with mobility impairments about alternative housing, and general notice to the campus community that advises prospective visitors with disabilities that the elevator is out of order.

“It doesn’t seem that all those measures were taken here,” Rosenbaum said in an email. “In fact, there is a history of breakdowns. The University sent out a generalized, breezy email and didn’t abide by its own estimated repair date. And, why are students who use wheelchairs being offered housing in buildings with only one elevator?”

The faulty elevator is just one of a suite of issues rankling residents of Norton Hall. Since it was first circulated Nov. 7, nearly 100 out of about 230 Norton residents signed a letter calling on the campus to fix conditions at Unit 3 that they say compromise their health and safety. The letter’s author, Grace Kim, a campus freshman and Norton resident, sent her letter to Chancellor Carol Christ, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos, The Daily Californian and interim Housing Facilities Manager Candi Lee, according to Kim.

Other than the elevator, the letter raises concerns about the quality of food served at Cafe 3, Unit 3’s dining hall, and an unaddressed maintenance issue. Kim said in an email that a moldy smell has persisted in her room for the entire semester, which she suspects is because of issues in the bathroom. While she brought the issues to the attention of a campus facilities worker, she said nothing has been done as of press time.

According to the letter, meals at Cafe 3 are “regularly unpalatable” because they are either not fresh or are improperly cooked. Some residents suspect that Cafe 3 meals have given them food poisoning. Others, however, said the food was tolerable.

“Many times the food is burnt, people find bugs in the salads,” Kim said. “With all those issues, it makes the food choices very limiting; it’s more just scrounging around to find anything to eat. A lot of people just eat cereal.”

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.