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Staff Issues: Super School

Quick, if there were a place that you could send your superintendent to get more training in how to maintain your building, distinguish among cost-saving technologies, learn the latest trends in energy efficiency, and walk away with a state-backed certificate, how much would you be willing to pay for it? One hundred dollars? One thousand? Would it be worth $1,200? If you don’t think so, turn the page. But if you’re a board member who has had to deal with a super who is in over his head and you want a solution, read on. Relief may be in sight.

Starting this fall, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is helping to develop a standardized training program for supers, both in the basics of building operations and in new energy-saving technology, all with the long-term goal of reducing New Yorkers’ overall consumption of electricity and protecting and maintaining New York City housing stock.

Known as “Energy Efficient Building Operations,” the program will offer training for supers, porters, and handymen in how to operate building systems more efficiently, how to assess new technology, and how to institute cost- and energy-saving methods around the building. The program, to be offered both at a training site in the Bronx, as well as in Manhattan, and at selected residential buildings, is expected to extend to from 30 to 40 hours and range in costs from $500 to $1,200, depending on the extent of the training and whether the superintendent takes an exam to become state-certified.

The idea came about, according to NYSERDA spokesman Ryan Moore, because of lobbying within the building maintenance industry for standardized training and NYSERDA’s own commitment to reducing energy consumption statewide. To create a benchmark of what it means to be a certified super, NYSERDA has been working with the Building Performance Institute, a non-profit organization that sets building standards nationwide, to ensure “that a nationally recognized set of standards and best practices in these topic areas is being developed,” says Moore.

For engineers, supers, board members, and managers, some kind of statewide certification program is long overdue. “The superintendent today, he’s not just the guy in the basement. He’s responsible for your health and welfare,” observes Peter Grech, president of the Superintendents’ Technical Association (STA), which is helping to write the curriculum that will be used in the course starting in the fall. “Today’s building systems are becoming much more technical… It’s not so much that [supers] don’t know what to do, [it’s that] nobody is providing funding or education to keep up with things.”
In an effort to encourage as broad participation as possible, a series of classes will be offered around the city: both on-site at residential buildings and at the training centers in the Bronx and Manhattan, where supers will be introduced to new technology, such as cogeneration boilers and state-of-the-art submetering. To keep the program competitive, NYSERDA has contracted with New York City’s Association for Energy Affordability (AEA), a non-profit organization that has worked to reduce energy costs in low- and middle-income residential properties for the past 10 years, and with Connecticut-based Steven Winter Associates, an energy management consulting firm, to write the curriculum and offer classes.

“We have been dealing for years with building supers and we are surprised that more are not well enough informed to deal effectively with their building systems,” says David Hepinstall, AEA’s executive director. “Many of them don’t know as much about the operations and controls of the building as they should. They could be saving money for the building owners, which, ultimately, in a co-op or condo means the building residents.”

The goal of the courses is to train building personnel to use their existing operating systems more efficiently, adds Andrew Padian, senior housing specialist with Steven Winter Associates. He says his company’s course will be designed to be held on-site at co-op, condo, and rental buildings. “We are training people to be more efficient in operating [a building] – more efficient in recognizing problems.”

At AEA’s Energy Management Training Center in the Bronx, supers will learn not only how to anticipate problems in a building, but will be introduced to the latest technology in building systems, such as submetering and cogeneration, and learn how to use computers in day-to-day operations.
The point is to guide supers to “making better choices when they are in a position to purchase energy efficiency equipment, while making sure that whatever they do, they take into consideration the health, safety, and comfort of tenants,” explains AEA’s chief energy engineer, Asit Patel. Supers will be trained to handle electrical equipment and to engage in preventive maintenance.

While there are dozens of different training programs for supers and other building personnel already – classes are offered by the building services workers’ union, 32BJ, the city’s Housing and Preservation Development agency, and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency – few, if any, are mandatory. According to STA, the only certification required to be a superintendent is a 30-minute test given by the New York City Fire Department, covering basic knowledge of the oil/gas/heating/sprinkler systems.

For some property management companies, a state-backed superintendent certification program would be a welcome relief. “We take it for granted that when they have a No. 6 oil license that means they know everything about boilers, and that’s not always true,” observes Steve Greenbaum, director of property management for Mark Greenberg Real Estate. When property managers are hiring new supers, he adds, they often end up hoping that the prospective superintendent’s skills are up to par. But they do not know for sure until the super is on the job.

Although formal word of the program has only just started to spread, interest is high, and has been so for some time, notes Richard Koral, director of the Apartment House Institute, part of the New York City College of Technology Continuing Education Division. He adds that when he mentioned the idea of certification at a seminar on superintendent hiring, the positive reaction from the attendees – board members – was immediate. People began to applaud. “They were saying, ‘Oh, thank God. We don’t know who to hire. We don’t know how to evaluate them.’

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