When a multi-level center opens, the public races in and heads right for the escalators, says Steve Rivers, construction manager for Hardin Construction Group Inc., Atlanta, the contractors for Mall of Georgia.

"The first thing they do is jump on them," he says. "The escalators probably have more people to carry than they'll ever have again."

The escalators Hardin installs undergo a demanding load test before a center opens. "Before Carolina Place Mall in Charlotte opened in 1990, we brought 30 high school football players in to do a load test and make sure the escalators could take it," says Rivers. "We intend to do a load test at Mall of Georgia, most likely utilizing some of the 1,100 laborers on site. We'll pack them full and run them for several hours. Maybe we'll feed the testers a barbecue lunch beforehand."

As the trend toward multi-level shopping centers grows, the way in which visitors traverse between levels becomes more important. And developers want to see that shoppers go up and down, on escalators and elevators, safely, quietly and in style.

The importance of good design "I'd say about 75% to 80% of our escalator orders are for our Slim Line escalator, which comes with a glass wall," says Jim Dinan, manager of national accounts for Schindler Elevator Corp., a 125-year-old elevator and escalator company with U.S. headquarters in Morristown, N.J. Once an escalator is placed outdoors, or even partially outdoors, however, stainless steel is used for the walls because it holds up better to adverse weather conditions.

Similarly, some 60% of the passenger elevators ordered from Schindler have glass backs. "They let you look out at the mall," Dinan says. "That's probably the biggest change we see. A few years ago, you didn't see glass. Bronze and stainless steel were used for the escalator walls and elevator backs."

Elevator cab options include formed steel walls with a choice of baked-enamel colors or stainless steel, applied panels with dozens of plastic laminate selections, and the rear glass wall design. Entrances are available in various designs and colors, including metal and baked-enamel finishes, and fixtures come in a variety of metal finishes and designs. Designers can also choose ceiling and lighting packages to match the decor.

Good design is critical for escalators, too. Schindler's 9300 line of escalators comes with color and design options and can be customized. Color, material and lighting options include skirt lighting as well as five glass wall color options. The balustrade designs include aluminum, stainless steel and laminated panel sections, a variety of handrail colors, and choices of height and step widths.

The Schindler 9300 has been installed in some of the newest and largest shopping centers in the country, such as Shops at Sunset Place in Miami, Providence Place in Providence, R.I., and Mall of Georgia.

Rivers of Hardin Construction explains that certain attributes were important in selecting the proper escalators for Mall of Georgia. "There are four escalators that go to the Regal Theater, a 20-theater complex, on the third level of the mall," he says, "and we wanted them to be two-directional so we could reverse the direction to handle heavy exit traffic when the theaters close. All four of these escalators are two-directional."

Escalators in the common area of the center all have glass walls, brushed stainless-steel skirt panels and rubber balustrade caps, along with wide step widths. The wide, 48" step width not only accommodates greater traffic but also makes the escalators more inviting to shoppers.

Traditionally, a common concern for center developers is providing enough vertical transportation to encourage shoppers to visit the upper levels. At Mall of Georgia, one pair of escalators has been placed at each end of the center and two pairs in the middle. (Another four elevators and four escalators have been installed in an outdoor Village at Mall of Georgia, which consists of 150,000 sq. ft. of freestanding retail space.)

The indoor mall contains four elevators, two of which are feature, or passenger, elevators. "These are glass-backed in an open hoistway, with high-grade brushed stainless-steel trim and limestone floors," Rivers says, adding that their size is also impressive. "They have one of the largest cab sizes for passenger elevators at a mall."

Environmentally friendly elevators As the leading manufacturer of escalators, and second largest elevator company in the world, Schindler is in a good position to both reflect trends and influence them. One way the company has tried to influence trends is through its environmentally friendly "holeless" elevators.

"Typically, with the 'borehole' design, you'd have a hole in the ground as deep as the height of the building for the jack, which used to push up the hydraulic elevators," Dinan explains. "With the Schindler 321A elevator system, a holeless hydraulic design makes this drilling unnecessary. The result is that the oil used to provide energy for the elevators is above rather than under the ground. You don't have the possibility of oil seeping into the ground in case of a rupture of the line."

With the older, borehole technology, the oil, located in a tank off to the side of the hydraulic elevator jack, goes via pipe from its tank and fills up a cylinder below the jack. When the oil leaves the cylinder, the jack and the elevator come down."

In the holeless design, telescoping technology is used to push up the jack, but the shaft never goes below ground. "If there is an oil leak, it is visible and can be immediately addressed," according to Dinan. "Schindler is a leader in this technology. We've been selling versions of it for 10 years."

Dinan notes that some customers are more comfortable with the borehole technology because it's familiar. "Actually," he argues, "the holeless design is less expensive because you don't have to drill a hole in the ground. And, acceptance of this technology is increasing. Well over 70% of our orders are now for the holeless design."

Dinan notes that there is a height limitation of four stories for the holeless design, making it ideal for multi-level centers, which usually don't exceed this height.

A quieter, more energy-efficient ride In addition to being stylish and environmentally sound, shopping center developers are asking that escalators be quiet. "The developers don't want extra noise in the malls," Dinan says. "They have enough noise already."

The Schindler 9300, with its advanced drive technology, is one of the quietest escalators sold, says Dinan. The escalators employ a technology in which loads are spread on the meshing gear teeth over a large contact area, resulting in reduced friction, greater drive efficiency and low noise levels. The motor used in the escalators achieves a noise reduction of more than 60% over conventional motors.

In addition, up to 30% savings in power consumption can be reached because of the system's dual microprocessor controller, which is capable of interfacing with building monitoring systems. A feature called the ECO Energy Saving system allows the controller to switch the drive motor to a mode that consumes less energy when it senses light loads.

Safety a high priority To provide mall visitors with a safe, pleasant shopping experience, Schindler's escalators are manufactured with state-of-the-art safety features, including a direction-sensitive brake that reduces braking torque to one-third when ascending. Should an emergency stop be necessary, a smaller braking force would be employed, resulting in a more gradual deceleration.

Other safety features include automatic start-up checks, an active safety brake, and guide pads on each side of every step. The guide pad, for instance, limits the gap between the step and skirting on either side of the step, minimizing the risk of entrapment.

Schindler is also committed to making its escalators and elevators handicapped accessible, meeting ADA requirements. "We've put in lower button assemblies in and outside the elevator cars," says Dinan. "For the blind, we've introduced tones that indicate whether the elevator is going up or down, along with tones that indicate which floor the elevator is on. And, we've added Braille markings to indicate floor numbers."

A tradition of durability The durability of the Schindler 9300 is perhaps the greatest assurance of the system's safety.

"As our product line grew, we didn't try to reduce costs by putting in weaker materials," says Dinan. "We use angle iron, for instance, below the surface, to create a truss similar to what you'd see in a bridge. The angle iron is welded together joint by joint, and it's not going to give way. This is the way Schindler has made its escalators for 100 years."

To make sure the escalators and elevators meet quality standards, they're put through demanding life-cycle testing meant to simulate a 25-year environment. Testing is performed on braking systems, handrail drive systems, step/chain rollers and track systems.

In 1997, the company received a New Jersey Quality Partner Award from Quality New Jersey. In that same year, Industry Week magazine named the Clinton, N.C., escalator manufacturing facility as one of America's 10 best plants.

Schindler's dedication to quality and durability began 125 years ago when Robert Schindler founded a small mechanical engineering workshop in Lucerne, Switzerland. It remains a privately held company today, still managed by descendants of its founding family. The Schindler Group is Europe's largest and the world's second largest elevator company, and is the world's leading supplier of escalators. The company has approximately 40,000 employees worldwide. Schindler Elevator Corp. is the North American operating entity of the Swiss-based company.

Front-end planning, back-end service "If you plan well, then installing escalators and elevators is a simple process. You can normally do the planning in two hours, and it will save hundreds of thousands of dollars up front," says Rivers of Hardin Construction.

"You need to know how much concrete and structural steel will be required for the pits for both the elevators and escalators, and the size and depth of the pits," he continues. "You need information related to heat, voltage and amperage requirements for the equipment. We received this cooperation from Schindler, so there was no guesswork involved."

After a project is completed, Schindler has the ability to stay involved on the service end. "We sell, install, service and maintain our products if the customer so requests," says Dinan.

"We have 125 offices in the U.S. alone, and each is capable of sending technicians out for service from the closest location."

With more and more multi-level centers being constructed today, particularly entertainment retail centers, elevators and escalators are key to smooth traffic movement. Today's escalators and elevators - with their slender, elegant, environmentally sound and durable design - are helping to make one of the most functional aspects of the shopping experience a pleasurable one as well.