Caverns: Secondary elevators could cost $18 million, project to start in 2021

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Construction on the secondary elevators at Carlsbad Caverns National Park could take twice as long as the primary elevator system, as worker must replace all of the structure steel in the secondary system while also modernizing the electrical components.

The structural steel at the primary elevators was replaced in 2008, and the modernization project which finished last month took about three years.

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Doug Neighbor, park superintendent at Carlsbad Caverns said the project would mimic the primary elevator modernization, as the National Park Service (NPS) is considering multiple alternatives regarding the steel itself.

Stainless steel, Neighbor said, would cost about $12 million, while non-stainless steel was estimated at $9 million.

Estimates from the NPS put the cost at $18 million, but that is an outdated number, Neighbor said, that was adjusted for inflation.

New motors were installed in the primary elevator system at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

“Our secondary elevators require a full replacement,” Neighbor said. “Over the course of the last three years, we’ve been maintaining the secondary elevators. We are looking at some additional alternatives.”

NPS officials are working to refine the estimates, planning to contract for the design and construction separately, unlike the primary system that used a design-build model.

More:Elevators face more delays beyond prediction at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The project would require Congressional approval for funding, Neighbor said, and was listed as a line item in the federal budget for 2021.

He said the timeline could be moved up to 2019, if Congress appropriates the funds sooner.

More:Heinrich questions NPS officials on maintenance backlog

“In 2020, we don’t know what constructions costs will be,” Neighbor said. “In my mind, the project may be moved up if they allocate the funding. We have some money to initiate. We’re starting the preliminary work, and part of that is refining those estimates.”

A cost-saving method that could drive down the price, Neighbor said, is to combine the two secondary elevators cars – which hold eight passengers each – into one car.

A crane was used to install new motors in the primary elevator system at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

This would cut the needed steel in half, cut the system down to one motor and save funding, while speeding up the project, he said.

And with advances in elevator rescue techniques, such as ascending the same shaft to the malfunctioning car or using a drift function, car-to-car rescue might not be needed.

More:Stranded: Family rescued from Carlsbad Caverns elevator 740 feet underground

“If we are getting away from car-to-car rescues, do we really need two cars?” Neighbor said. “What we’re looking at is time savings and cost savings. We want to make sure it’s easier now and in the future.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) demanded the NPS expedite the project in a Wednesday letter to the agency, calling the secondary elevators an essential component of Carlsbad Caverns.

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He said the project needs to be completed to prevent any lift outages, which Pearce contended could be detrimental to visitation.

“I am thankful that the work on the primary elevators is finally complete,” Pearce wrote. “However it is absolutely critical that the (NPS) immediately begin the process to fix the secondary elevators to provide long-term stability and to avoid the elevator outage issues that have plagued the park over the last five years.”

In addition to his statements, Pearce also submitted five questions related to the time frame of the project, estimated costs and contracting.

He said the park is important to the local community and economy in the Carlsbad area, and elevator outage could reduce visitation and thus revenue to the park.

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“This directly impacts the local economy and results in less revenue for the (NPS),” Pearce wrote of the outages. “The park is extremely important to the local community as tourism is vital to the city’s economic well-being.

“While I understand that it is the (NPS’) responsibility to fix this problem, my office stands ready to help in any we can to return the park to normal operations.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.