The Meter is Running
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Castle Village: in times of greatest need, volunteers can save the day.
AUTHORGerald L. Fingerhut
A resident of Castle Village, an Upper West Side’s co-op whose wall fell onto the Henry Hudson Parkway in 2005, takes up the mantle and serves on the co-op’s board, guiding it through one of the greatest challenges any co-op could face.
Gerald L. Fingerhut
Castle Village Owners Corp. New York, NY
My family arrived in Castle Village early in 2001 after spending the prior 20 years in a Greenwich Village co-op where I had served as board president. My thoughts of looking forward to a life of peace and quiet without board service came to an abrupt end on May 12, 2005. It’s been well publicized that on that date, a significant section of our 1,000-foot long, 75-foot high, roughly 100-year-old wall fell onto the Henry Hudson Parkway. In November 2005, I was elected to Castle Village’s board where I served for one year as treasurer and currently serve as president.
Rebuilding turned out to be the relatively easy part. The contractors we selected were outstanding. It was more challenging arranging for financing for the co-op; assisting shareholders finance their share of an $11 million assessment; dealing with the city, numerous architects, engineers, and lawyers; and the almost daily interactions with the state’s insurance department and with roughly 35 different insurance companies, convincing almost all of them to pay shareholders’ loss assessment rider claims, totaling in the millions.
The aftermath of that event continues today. The wall has been rebuilt, the grounds are more beautiful than ever, a new expanded children’s playground was completed this fall, and a graceful pergola, with seating overlooking the Hudson River, the Palisades and the George Washington Bridge, has been completed. The sounds of kids playing on our acres of lawn are now once again heard. People picnic when the weather is conducive. When it snows, kids find the grades suitable for sledding.
The reality check of taking on the awesome responsibility of a project with a price tag exceeding $25 million was a wake up call for everyone in Castle Village. In its aftermath, came several other realities, all under the heading This Was Not Going to be Business as Usual.
Castle Village was converted To a co-op in 1986. It was now 2006; 20 years later and our corporate documents had not undergone any significant revisions. From a financial standpoint, they did not provide for transfer, sublet, or storage fees. Furthermore, recognizing the need to “green” our five buildings, required shareholder approval to submeter, all in light of an onerous 75 percent requirement for passage of any amendments. With the support of a great many of our shareholders who worked tirelessly to get out the “yes” vote, we were successful. We modernized our corporate documents, reduced the requirement to amend them to sixty-six-and-two-thirds percent, instituted transfer, sublet and storage fees that are already generating several hundred thousand dollars each year, and received shareholder approval for submetering electricity.
The board authorized an energy audit (completed this past fall). The findings were reviewed by the board and the energy committee and approved in November. The project, which is projected to cost approximately $2.4 million, will be funded in part by a subsidized loan of $1.9 million from the New York State Energy and Research Authority and grants of another $500,000. The recommendations consist of energy-saving improvements that include submetering, the installation of multiple cogen systems in each of our five buildings, and thermostatically controlled steam valves. Energy savings are projected to exceed $300,000 per year.
A complex as large as Castle Village, with 585 units on seven-and-a-half acres and five hi-rise buildings, consists of a large, diverse community. We’re somewhat unusual in that our park-like grounds are conducive to neighbors getting to know one another. However, we felt that was not enough. In order to nurture a better sense of community, several initiatives have been initiated or revitalized as itemized below, and work has begun to make our five buildings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. We now have:
• a bi-monthly newsletter produced by two of our residents.
• A web site where information of interest is posted on a regular basis and e-mailed to shareholders.
• A community connections committee whose charge is to focus on quality-of-life issues.
• An event planning committee responsible for developing and executing community based events such as picnics, plays, readings, kids’ events, and the like.
What have I learned? I’m constantly reminded that community service is a reward in and of itself. I’ve met many wonderful neighbors and formed numerous lasting friendships. In the final analysis, co-op management is, in many respects, analogous to running a corporation. It requires financial expertise and business acumen combined with compassion for the well being of one’s neighbors. Fortunately for Castle Village, we have been blessed with wonderful volunteers. We couldn’t do it without them.