New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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The Nuclear Man

Board member Tom Uhl
The Sands
Midtown East, Manhattan



Tom Uhl has lived at The Sands, a 111-unit, 14-story co-op at 321 East 45th Street, for seven years, and has been on the board for five of them. And while the politics of a cooperative can often seem very important to the shareholders, the arguments over lobbies and assessments pale in comparison to some of the experiences Uhl has had. Like being a startup engineer at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant, for instance.

At other times during his 30-year career as an engineer at Con Ed, he was project manager for the Indian Point Simulator; worked on the DC Elimination Project; and was Con Ed’s spokesman for the Y2K project.

When he retired a few years ago, he recalls, “I thought I would continue my career as a consultant, but the downturn in the economy said, ‘No.’ There were more than enough people to fill the jobs. But I am now comfortably retired and traveling and enjoying it.”

Nonetheless, he has found that life on the six-person board as “the engineer” among the other “specialists” (a lawyer, a landscape architect, an accountant, and two IT guys) has allowed him to keep his finger on the pulse doing what he does best: getting to work on any engineering/technical problem that arises.

“Because I am retired, I have more time,” he explains. “Most members of the board are very busy with their careers. So they can’t necessarily meet with vendors or handle all the paperwork of getting out the RFP [request for proposals] or getting the proposals, sending them responses, and so forth.”

Uhl was able to join Ralph Davis, the co-op’s manager and an assistant vice president at ABC Realty, on a visit to see examples of what the company has done in many of its buildings “to increase [his] experience level, too.”

Uhl also worked with Davis on a new intercom system for The Sands. Although the property, located between First and Second Avenues, has a doorman on duty from 4 P.M. to midnight, there were concerns about his off-hours when the 56-year-old intercom was the only watchdog.

“The system was pretty much under continual repair because there seemed to be some internal wiring problems due to its age,” recalls Uhl. “In my own unit, I could release the door from my apartment, but I couldn’t hear the doorman or any guests on the phone and they couldn’t hear me. So it came down to the point where if I knew visitors were coming, they called me on the cellphone from the vestibule, and I released the door. But if I had a surprise guest or somebody was delivering something, and they didn’t have my cellphone number, it was a problem.”

The Sands is primarily made up of studio apartments. The average resident, Uhl says, “is somebody who has moved up in their career or perhaps has been renting an apartment or sharing an apartment early in their career. We have a number of single women. We don’t want any security problems.”

To pay for the new intercom, the co-op refinanced its underlying mortgage for $2.5 million, which included funding for the intercom replacement and other future projects. After much discussion, the board opted for an audiovisual system because “it would provide us with more security,” says Davis.

Uhl recalls that he “took the lead [in developing] the request for proposals, getting the technical specifications together. Then I did the technical review of the [five sealed] proposals that came back and scored them. The board accepted my recommendation, and we went with Academy.”

Matthew Arnold, the president of the winning contractor, Academy Mailbox, says he based his bid on utilizing intercoms from Aiphone, a provider of communications systems. The equipment consists of stainless steel panels, including a color camera with a 170-degree view, a microphone, and a digital keypad to page apartments. LEDs built into the units help identify visitors at night. The units in the residents’ apartments allow them to speak with visitors and zoom and tilt the front door camera to get a good view.

A key to keeping the project affordable was Academy’s ability to reuse the cable from the previous intercom: copper in a PVC sheath. “To rewire would have added another 25 percent and doubled the time for the job – you need to run a serpentine line through the building, through each apartment, from apartment to apartment – and the aggravation factor for those tenants and the time factor would have been a lot greater.”

The job, which began in July 2014 and was completed in August 2014, cost $73,000 and went smoothly, thanks, partly, to the presence of Uhl. “He was very talented and was able to help oversee things,” Davis recalls. “He was crucial in helping the installation.”

Next up at The Sands is a basic access control system Academy will install at the front entrance, allowing residents to use a key fob to enter the building without having to punch a code into the intercom panel. Uhl should have fun with that.

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