City Planner by Day, Board Planner by Night
Robert Dobruskin, board president at the Kensington, the 195-unit co-op at 200 West 20th Street, was entranced by the building as soon as he laid eyes on it. “I loved its mosaic entryway and the Art Deco design,” he recalls. He had lived as a renter in Chelsea since 1995, and he knew that if he ever bought an apartment, it would be there.
By 2003, Dobruskin had bought his dream home, and within three years, he was serving on the board. “I wanted to be part of the co-op experience. I wanted to help shape the destiny of the building,” he explains. In 2010, after a number of years as vice president, he moved into the best spot to be a mover and shaker: president of the seven-member board.
One of his goals was to stop the leaks in the aging property. Built in 1937, the elegant building, now populated mostly by young professionals, had seen better days. The main problem, admits John Devall, the property’s veteran managing agent from Orsid Realty, was a continuous string of incidents involving leaks over the years that baffled everyone. “We had performed some inspections, and we couldn’t quite figure out where the problem was,” Devall recalls. “We had been doing interior repairs the entire time.”
The board hired Rand Engineering & Architecture. Initially the thinking was that the leaks were coming from breaches in the façade, says Michael Larkin, the senior structural engineer from Rand who supervised the work. “Then we did a whole series of water tests, and we realized [it was] not just the outside wall [but] the full parapet wall that [was] defective. That meant that the whole scope of the job increased.”
The parapets were compromised: the brick was worn in places, counterflashing had been improperly installed, and waterproofing was needed in some areas.
“There was a lot of discussion – a lot of discussion,” Devall recalls. Rand’s Larkin attended one meeting, presenting all the pros and cons, “and we talked about the numbers. Then at that meeting, the board still hadn’t decided. It was a tough decision.”
At issue: whether the board should authorize a full replacement or continue with the patchwork repairs when new leaks appeared. “As president, I helped lead the board over this multi-month period where we needed to decide the type of work we were going to do, and who was going to do it,” recalls Dobruskin. “There are seven members, and each brings to the group [his or her] own experience and perspective, and getting all of those perspectives to align and make a decision is a challenging process. In our building in particular, three of the seven members are sponsor representatives. The sponsor still holds 25 percent of the co-op corporation, and they also own the commercial spaces in the building.”
Dobruskin says he was prepared for his role because of his day job as a city planner. “I am accustomed to working in groups that make decisions. My city planning work is related to many of the decisions we need to make for the building, dealing with city rules and decisions, and changing regulations. I know how to work with people to make decisions.”
After multiple meetings and long discussions, during which the board debated its two options, it ultimately decided to go with the full parapet replacement.
Were there difficulties with the sponsor over the parapet replacement? All Dobruskin will say is: “The sponsor has his own interests.”
“We were convinced that this would solve all the water penetration problems permanently,” recalls Devall. “We didn’t want to put a Band-Aid [on the problem only to have to] come back to this three or five years from now and have the same sort of situation. Some of those bricks are still there from 1937. It’s high time that they get swapped out. They made a decision to put no more money into stopgap repairs.”
Another factor in the decision was that, in 2013, in preparation for upcoming Local Law 11 inspections, the co-op had refinanced its underlying mortgage for about $2 million. “The local law cycle is coming up here, and we thought we were going to address this condition during that project,” explains Devall, “so the building is now in a much better cash position to undertake this type of work.”
After the board decided to go ahead – putting off a window replacement job until the leaks were eliminated – it announced the project at its annual meeting. There was hardly a murmur, recalls Devall, with some surprise. “At most buildings that I manage, when someone hears that a whole parapet wall is being replaced, and that we are going to spend an extra $200,000, some people do blink or blush, and they give me a call.”
Skyline Restoration is doing the work, which began in mid-November and shut down when the cold weather arrived. Devall is doing most of the liaison work with the contractor and Rand, while Dobruskin – recalling his early love for the Art Deco property years ago – will focus on the new decorative brick, which must match the existing design of the building.
“The majority of the brickwork in the building is the original brickwork, and it’s been quite some time since the building was cleaned,” observes Dobruskin, who seems enthusiastic about giving an improved face to his home. “One of the challenges in this area has been getting the right brick. The existing bricks are dirty. So I have to eyeball it and imagine what the brick would look like clean, because, ultimately, you want the new brick to match the clean brick, not the dirty brick. It’s just common sense.”
Keeping the Condo on the Same Page
Mike McClorey has the no-nonsense manner that went with his longtime job as sanitation worker when he explains what led him to buy an apartment in the Quail Run at Deer Park condominium a decade ago: “I was attracted to this building because it’s quiet, the community is great, the taxes are ridiculously low, and the maintenance is absolutely amazing. It is the best kept secret in New York.”
McClorey began his first term as president of the nine-member board a little more than a year after he had moved in. “I wanted to get involved with the community, and I wanted to see if I could make it a better place to live for everybody,” he says.
The 160-unit condominium association, located in Deer Park on Long Island, was built more than 40 years ago as a collection of one- and two-story buildings and is now an enclave for the middle class. In 2004, leaks began appearing. They were minor, and the board felt it had them under control.
After Hurricane Sandy, however, the leaks became more severe. The board hired R&W Engineering to evaluate the roofs and determine what was needed to fix them. Apparently, the flashing hadn’t been installed properly in some areas, and this had become a problem, especially in a collection of two-story ranch-style units. “Any time there was an elevation change in the structure – wherever it went from a single-story to a double-story roof – they had a lot of leaks,” notes the property’s managing agent, David Niederman, of Fairfield Properties.
The board members agreed that – in Niederman’s words – “it was basically time for [full repairs] to be done.” The unit-owners were another matter. Since they were looking at an $850,000 job, most of them had questions, which the board addressed in a pair of meetings.
“We explained some of the options they had for raising funds and what had to be done,” says the manager. “Some of them wanted to know if they really needed to [do all the repairs] to the whole community, whether they could just do some of them for now, or asked, ‘Can you patch some of them as opposed to replace them?’ or ‘Can the project be spread out over time instead of being done all at once?’ We told them that it was less expensive to do them all at the same time.”
It was also more practical. “We were putting in bigger gutters when we redid them,” Niederman says. “You could not partially replace some of the gutters. You couldn’t really do that on half the roofs.” They also were using a different shingle style, which would mean it wouldn’t match if they only did some of the buildings.
“We told them that we really had to do this now, and we had voted for it, and that’s why [they had] elected us,” observes McClorey, who used the people skills he has honed as a supervisor at Home Depot to help everyone understand the issues. “We look at it like this: these people own these properties; it’s their home. So we want to get their input as well. We all want to be on the same page.”
The emphasis on communication is paramount to McClorey. The board alternates closed and open meetings every month so residents can attend and offer comments if they like. “We set up the open meeting to let the community know exactly what the board’s intentions are,” he explains.
Perhaps that’s why there was very little grumbling when the condo ultimately borrowed $900,000 – the extra $50,000 would go to some paving work that would be done in the near future.
Speed was the watchword. The job started October 13, 2014 and finished roughly 30 days later on November 17. The contractor that handled the roof work was JEM Consolidated.
“We were kind of surprised [at their speed],” says Niederman. “The contractor told us it would be done fast, but we didn’t believe it. He actually got it done in that time frame, however. It was impressive.”
McClorey agrees: “Our attorney drew up the contracts and sent them over to the contractor. He signed them, they started, and the guys finished 36 buildings in five weeks. They did a phenomenal job.”