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Casper forced to spend extra ~$183K as elevator headache threatens Ford Wyoming Center’s ability to host shows

ZZ Top, consisting of Elwood Francis, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard, perform at the Ford Wyoming Center on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The City of Casper was notified in January 2021 by Thyssenkrupp Elevator (TKE) that the main hydraulic jack for the freight elevator at the Ford Wyoming Center had failed and needed replaced.

There was a $95,108.81 cost to that repair project that the Casper City Council approved on April 6. City staff explain in a memo to the city council that TKE received parts and started that repair work on July 14.

However, when the contractor removed the existing hydraulic jack, it was determined that the ground had shifted and a new hole would need to be drilled for the jack.

TKE was unable to conduct that drill work itself and told the city that the only company in the region capable of drilling a new hole for the hydraulic jack is Snow’s Drilling, based in Englewood, Colorado. The cost for that work would be $183,282.

Casper City Manager Carter Napier told the city council on Tuesday, September 28 that the city reached out to drillers in Wyoming and asked if they could do the work at a cheaper rate. However, Napier said that it appears Snow’s Drilling really is the only company in the region capable of the work that is needed.

“Drilling an oil well is quite a bit different than drilling an elevator shaft, unfortunately,” Napier said.

The city tried to work with the Wyoming Association of Risk Management (WARM) to secure insurance reimbursement for the initial hydraulic jack repair work, but that claim was denied.

Council member Amber Pollock asked whether the city had reached back out to WARM about the possibility that the city could be reimbursed for the cost of drilling the new hole.

Casper Buildings and Structures Manager Matt Thomason said that the city has tried to push within WARM to secure reimbursements for the elevator repair, but that the age of the elevator has been cited as a reason insurance will not cover the costs. The freight elevator dates back to the 1980s.

“[WARM] insisted this wasn’t covered as a covered loss,” Thomason said.

Napier explained to the council that the city has several options. The council could choose to do nothing and leave the freight elevator out of service.

However, the freight elevator is necessary to facilitate the shows that are put on at the Ford Wyoming Center. There is a second elevator at the facility that Spectra Venue Management has been able to use to keep shows happening while repair on the freight elevator is underway.

However, Napier said that elevator is as old as the freight elevator and similar problems could potentially arise with it. Should that elevator go out of service, it would significantly hamper Spectra’s ability to put on shows at the Ford Wyoming Center.

Thomason said that in conversations with Spectra staff, it has been communicated that putting on shows with only the second elevator has already been a struggle. He said that Spectra has been patient and understanding in regard to the slow process to get the freight elevator repaired, but has communicated that not having the freight elevator in perpetuity is not sustainable.

Napier said that he doesn’t recommend the council do nothing and leave the freight elevator out of service. The other option beside paying to have a new hole for the hydraulic jack drilled would be to pay for a whole new elevator.

Should the city pursue that route, the new elevator would be a traction elevator rather than one that relies on a hydraulic jack. The cost for that replacement would be between $600,000 to $750,000. The new elevator would have a lifespan of 20-30 years.

Napier recommended that the council go with the less expensive option to have the new hole drilled in order to repair the existing freight elevator. He said the $183,282 would come from the city’s Perpetual Care Fund. That fund is designed to cover the cost of maintenance for city-owned facilities that have been funded by the Optional One Cent sales tax. The Ford Wyoming Center is such a facility.

Napier said that if the council were to approve of the project, it would require an amendment to the current fiscal year budget.

Council member Bruce Knell said he thinks the best option is to pay for the new hole to be drilled.

“This is our building. We have to take care of it,” Knell said. “The fact that funds are available, it is kind of a no-brainer, really.”

Knell said that he thinks the Ford Wyoming Center has been putting on successful shows and that it doesn’t make sense to him to leave the elevator problem unaddressed and potentially erode the ability for the venue to host events, adding that the events have a significant impact for the local economy.

Pollock agreed: “It could cancel shows if the second elevator goes down.”

Council member Kyle Gamroth asked whether there was a possibility for the city to assess the condition of the second elevator as the Ford Wyoming Center and see if that one could be upgraded to meet the needs of putting on events. He said he would also like to have a better sense of how the freight elevator being down impacts operations and costs, asking whether the elevator being down might lead to increased labor costs or might impact the quality of shows the venue is able to host.

“Many people believe we are constantly dumping money into the Event Center,” Gamroth said.

He said he was concerned about the optics of spending money on a freight elevator and would like to have more information to be able to show the public how repairing the elevator would allow the Ford Wyoming Center to host more shows and make more money.

Thomason said that the city is in the process of evaluating elevator conditions at all of its facilities and that would include the second elevator at the Ford Wyoming Center.

Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco said that the Ford Wyoming Center is an old facility and that maintenance issues will arise. He said that if the city doesn’t take care of problems as they are discovered, that could lead to bigger problems down the road. He added that if the current council does nothing, that will just kick the problem down the road for a future council to deal with.

“We’ve got to be able to maintain our buildings,” Pacheco said.

Napier said that the lack of elevator contractors in the Mountain West makes getting repairs done a timely process. He noted that when the city initially ordered work to repair the hydraulic jack in January 2021, it was put on a long wait list for service. He added that TKE wasn’t able to actually get into the building until July.

Napier said that if the council agrees to move forward with approving the cost to drill a new hole, he thinks the elevator repair will be a “fairly complete repair” and that he expects the elevator is likely to be operational for the rest of the lifespan of the Ford Wyoming Center.

The council indicated support for moving forward with spending the extra $183,282 to have the new hole drilled.