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Elevator malfunction closes Washington Monument 2nd time in one week

The Washington Monument can be seen through the cherry blossom trees that are blooming on March 23, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

WASHINGTON — For the second time in a week, the Washington Monument is closed because of an elevator malfunction.

Washington Monument elevator experienced an interruption in service Friday afternoon at the 490 foot level, says National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst.

No passengers were on the elevator at the time, but there were 86 visitors on the observation level who had to walk down the stairs.

“We share everyone’s frustration,” Litterst says. “The job of our rangers is to talk about these memorials, make them available to the public, educate them — and we are just as frustrated as everyone else.”

Technicians are on site Friday afternoon to examine the cause of the problem.

The monument will be closed to visitors the rest of Friday and all day Saturday so repairs can be made.

Litterst says the Washington Monument is part of the National Park Service that doesn’t have elevator technicians on staff, but hires contractors as needed for repairs and servicing.

“NPS should have dealt with this in its own way, long before now,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

Norton says there is now money available for the Washington Monument’s elevator issues to be addressed — whenever the go-ahead is given. But, she says a lengthy closure to replace a decades old control system shouldn’t happen during the height of tourist season.

“The mall superintendent applied for and got a grant from — guess where — the National Park Service. What it says to me is that the National Park Service did not put priority on essentially replacing this 20-year-old system that controls whether elevators can move up and down the monument. So, it’s on them.”

While conceding that the NPS is one of the government’s most underfunded agencies, Norton says it’s unconscionable that such an important function for a star attraction in the nation’s capital would be neglected so long.

The first priority is to get the monument reopened, Litterst says, but a long-term assessment of the equipment also will occur.

“We are exploring a number of options to reduce the service interruptions to the elevator in the future — from expanding our preventive maintenance program to replacing the control system for the elevator,” Litterst says.

The monument closed Tuesday because of an elevator problem, which forced dozens of visitors to hike down the monument’s stairs.

On Tuesday afternoon, the elevator stopped at the at the top level. The 15-20 people on the elevator and about 25 people at the observation level were safely evacuated.

The monument reopened Wednesday morning.

It’s unknown whether the two breakdowns are related, Litterst says.

The malfunctions are happening at a particularly inopportune time — the height of the tourist season. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is underway. One of the festival’s signature events — the Blossom Kite Festival — is held on the grounds of the Washington Monument that typically provides extraordinary views of kite-flying action.

A history of elevator issues

Elevator problems have closed the monument several times over the past year.

In May 2015, an elevator power failure cause a multi-day closure. In June 2015, the monument closed to allow for repairs to a mechanical alignment issue with the elevator. The park service says the elevator problem was caused by the repeated elevator shut downs in May.

Also, in August 2015, an elevator malfunction forced 63 people — two of whom were pregnant — to walk the 500 feet down to the bottom after being stranded at the top.

In February 2016, the monument was closed for several days after the elevator control box was inadvertently damage by a contractor working in the structure on an unrelated issue.

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