The Meter is Running
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A board treasurer relates her experiences in turning around an aging 365-unit Manhattan co-op.
When current Assistant Treasurer Karen Kearney-Jimenez first moved into her Sutton Place co-op, the 50-year-old building’s aging systems needed replacement or upgrading and the previous long-serving board had let things go. A look at how the new board’s hard work and good planning paid off.
Assistant Treasurer, 60 Sutton Corp., Manhattan
I never imagined I would be on the board.
When I moved into my cooperative 15 years ago, my dream of owning an apartment with a terrace was fulfilled, although I had never thought it would be on the East Side of Manhattan. After almost 20 years of being a renter on the West Side, my husband and I were both enthralled by the quiet elegance of Sutton Place. It was convenient to everything we loved about midtown and an easy commute to our home in Long Island.
We moved east to 60 Sutton Place South in the mid-1990s. We were both taken by the property – post-war, yes, but still impressive. Boasting 365 units, it is a beautiful building, almost triangular, featuring two towers and a connecting lobby. One nice feature is that each apartment has a balcony with cantilevered views of the East River.
Built in 1955, the building had been on the cutting edge when it opened – it had central air conditioning, a novelty at the time – but that original equipment was past any manufacturer’s idea of a useful life. The building’s appearance was excellent but below the surface were aged systems that were in need of replacement or upgrading. After all, what 50-year-old building didn’t need a new roof?
The problem was that the previous long-serving board had let things go, unwilling to spend the money. That’s where I came in. I had heard about a meeting called by some shareholders who were anxious about the state of the building and wanted to make what they saw as necessary changes. I went to listen – and ended up being recruited to run. I have a background in accounting, and they all thought it would be helpful if I could bring my expertise to the group. Duty called – and a slate of six of us was elected to the eleven-member board.
One of our first steps was to find the most competent professionals to handle our co-op’s legal, accounting, and management requirements. We found that our self-managed building needed to be turned over to a professional company whom we could turn to for guidance and resources. We added term limits to prevent the board from getting stagnant. We then began planning long-overdue capital projects because there are just some things you can’t ignore. Over the next seven years, we completely replaced the AC system, put on a new roof, repaired the balcony drainage systems, put in a new lobby mailroom, installed a new canopy, and added a new sidewalk to the entranceway.
As treasurer during the planning and much of the implementation of all this, I tried to be very conscientious, mapping out cash flow on spreadsheets for the operating and capital funds, hoping to keep a tight reign on what we spent. One of my focal points was keeping effective controls on capital projects. After all, 80 percent of the budget is not discretionary: real estate taxes, staff salaries, and energy costs take up most of it. But you can track capital projects and, to some degree, control.
It all took lot of time, but was worth it. Eventually, for personal reasons, I stepped down. I’m a really active board member, and if I don’t have the time to devote to it, I won’t do it. Being on the board is, as they say, a thankless job, so you have to get personal satisfaction from it. I do. And you get to meet people who live in the building. I have met people and made friends. That’s the best part of it. People get to know you and you’re approachable. It makes a big building into a community.
Last year, I was invited back. I returned, gladly, though I feel like the past work we have accomplished will prove to have been easy next to what’s ahead: we’re now entering the emotional world of décor – lobby and hallway upgrades. Stay tuned.