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August 28, 2014

Cathedral elevator project promises more efficiency

Keep up with the Cathedral of Learning elevator project: - Like “University of Pittsburgh Cathedral Elevator Modernization” on Facebook. - Follow “@cathedralelev” on Twitter. - Email any project-related questions to

Keep up with the Cathedral of Learning elevator project: - Like “University of Pittsburgh Cathedral Elevator Modernization” on Facebook. - Follow “@cathedralelev” on Twitter. - Email any project-related questions to

The creaking and squeaking and the waiting and crowding familiar to elevator passengers in the Cathedral of Learning is about to become a thing of the past.

A $10.44 million capital project is underway to replace the original elevators with a more efficient system designed to save passengers time, reduce crowding, increase reliability and cut energy consumption.

“This is the first time we’re touching pretty much every piece of the elevators,” said Dan Marcinko of Facilities Management, noting that there have been some modifications to elevator control systems and to doors and cabs, “but nothing as complete as this.”

The Westinghouse elevators were installed in 1931 during the Cathedral’s construction, with small-scale upgrades in 1971 and 1998. Many parts no longer are available, but must be fabricated when the antiquated elevators break down, delaying repairs, Marcinko said.

Mascaro Construction is the contractor for the design-build project, in partnership with Indovina Associates Architects, Loftus Engineers and Otis Elevator. The bulk of the project — $10.24 million — is being funded by the state; $200,000 is coming from University plant funds.


The new elevators will use destination-based technology in which passengers enter their destination on a wall-mounted video screen or keypad and are directed to the elevator they should board. The elevator will stop at the preselected floors; there are no buttons to push inside the car.

When the work is finished in spring 2016, the Cathedral’s eight main elevator cars will have a total of 201 stops, up from the current 127. The additional 74 stops will come from a combination of reactivating stops on some floors and reopening doors on some floors that had been sealed, Marcinko said. A half-dozen wall-mounted video kiosks will be placed in the ground floor lobby with another six on the first floor.

The small elevator to the Babcock Room on the 40th floor will be upgraded, but won’t have the destination-based technology, according to Marcinko.

With the destination-based system, instead of passengers crowding in front of the elevators, herding onto the first car to arrive, then stopping at many floors, “smart grouping” technology that optimizes the elevator trips will direct passengers to specific elevators based on their destination.

The elevators also will “learn” to wait where peak traffic is expected — on the lower floors in the mornings when people are going up, and the reverse in the evenings, for instance.

Similar systems already are in use in some Pittsburgh high-rises, including PNC offices, Marcinko said.

Frequent riders should adjust quickly; however the large number of “transient” riders — including visitors and incoming freshmen — means that there will be an ongoing education process until destination-based systems are more widespread and familiar, he said.


Passengers already should be noticing smoother rides following realignment of the elevator cars’ rails, said Christopher Niemann, a senior manager in Facilities Management’s construction department. “If you ride them regularly, you’ll notice less shaking,” he said.

That realignment work began in July, closing one car at a time.

In September, cars will be taken out of service two-by-two for three-four weeks at a time while workers inspect cables and safeties inside the shafts and make any necessary repairs.

There won’t be much to see. “A lot of the work takes place in the shafts,” Marcinko said, adding that much of the lobby work will be done during off-peak hours.

That more audible and visible work will follow in December, with pairs of cars — one upper level car and one lower level —taken out of service for three-four months. That’s when door frames and openings will be changing, Niemann said.

Passengers should be seeing the destination-based control system beginning to take over next March or April, when the first pair of cars is modernized and the video screens are put into use, Niemann said.

The system will direct traffic for the updated cars as well as the old ones during the transition.

Passengers will key in their desired floor on the screen. They will see either a letter corresponding to one of the modernized cars or a “Please wait for car arrival” message, indicating that they should board one of the old elevators and push the button inside for their floor.

Facilities Management is using social media to update the University community on the project and to familiarize riders with the new system. A three-minute video on the elevator system is posted on the project Facebook page (University of Pittsburgh Cathedral Elevator Modernization). Facilities Management also has set up a Twitter account (@cathedralelev) and a dedicated email address ( for project-related questions.

In addition, posters will be placed in the ground floor and first floor elevator lobbies and Facilities Management’s building contacts will receive email updates on the project.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 1