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Black Hawk County terminates contract after elevator company leaves jail in a lurch

Black Hawk County Jail

Black Hawk County Jail

WATERLOO — The county is terminating its longtime contract with an elevator company, citing issues with timely maintenance, particularly at the jail.

The contract between Black Hawk County and TK Elevator specifies that the elevator company “be on site within a two-hour notice,” said Rory Geving, county maintenance superintendent.

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That didn’t happen in June, when TK Elevator failed to respond when both elevators were out of service at the Black Hawk County Jail. The elevators serve as a “lifeline for travel throughout that building,” Geving told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“The company actually left the jail in a pretty tough situation with both elevators out overnight. They didn’t have anybody there to address the situation,” he said.

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Sheriff Tony Thompson said the jail’s elevators are critical. Support services like meals, laundry and medical supplies are delivered from the first floor to the two upper levels of inmate housing on giant wheeled carts — a system that relies heavily on the elevators working at all times.

“We have had problems upon problems. In fact, I’ve got one (elevator) down right now,” Thompson said Thursday.

The county formally put TK on notice after that incident, but has had “several other down times” since, Geving noted.

“Consequently, we’re really questioning the confidence level that we have with this company to keep us up and going,” he said.

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O’Keefe Elevator, a family-led, Omaha-based company, was acquired in 2019 by German conglomerate Thyssenkrupp, which then sold its entire elevator division in 2020 to private equity firms for $20.4 billion. That company became TK Elevator, now the world’s fourth-largest elevator business.

Thompson said that’s when the problems started.

“Since that merger, things have just gone downhill,” he said. “We’re seeing the brunt of that. There’s just not the timeliness.”

Geving said the county has noticed that as well.

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“I’m just requesting that we formally give our 60-day notice to them,” Geving said.

The board agreed on a unanimous vote without discussion.

Geving said his department was ready immediately to rebid the elevator service contract and would begin that process.

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Reporter covering Waterloo, Black Hawk Co. and politics

UNI political communications/journalism grad. Alum of The Calumet (MCC), The Northern Iowan (UNI), Fergus Falls (Minn.) Daily Journal and KWWL. 4-time award-winner while at The Courier. Interested in exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account.

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