Board President Steve Day
The Estates at Bayside Queens
Steve Day is satisfied. He wouldn’t have said so in 1998 when, after several years of living at The Estates at Bayside, a 490-unit Queens co-op, he became president because, as he so succinctly puts it: “We ran into problems.”
The cooperative, built in 1949 and converted in 1987, was reeling after a tumultuous period of fierce dissension and operational chaos. According to Day, a part-time manager at one board meeting screamed the entire time about “minor” matters, saying, “You need to take action on this! You need to take action on that!” – while the real emergencies were never addressed. The co-op was roughly $23 million in debt to a lender; there was a sponsor who owned 250 units that were losing $240,000 a year (pushing it into default); the co-op had a large arrears problem; and $2 million to $3 million in repairs were needed.
That the property is still standing and thriving is a testament to Day’s resolve and his deft handling of the board. “We had made a decent investment and we wanted to protect [it],” he says matter-of-factly about why he ran for the board. That sort of methodical approach might have developed during his years working as a recording engineer; one of his clients was jazz great Duke Ellington. “We became quite good friends,” he says, even though the two men had very different temperaments. “He was a remarkable individual, but he would often wake up at about two in the morning – that’s when his energy peaked and that’s when the recording sessions would start. But I am an early morning person and he was a late-night person, so we had to come to a meeting halfway down the road. I would have to maybe sleep a little later or come in a little later, but it was a good run.”
Day, retired now, believes in compromise – and in being practical. Three years ago, the co-op’s five-person board faced ever-increasing energy costs. The decades-old windows of the 23-building garden apartment complex were deteriorating, the roofs were leaking, and the six heating plants were unreliable. And patching it all up was getting very costly – and impractical.
“The windows we had were probably the second set of windows that were in here,” says Day, “and we were having quite a few problems with them: they were leaky, they were drafty, and heat was just going right out.”
The logical answer was to fix things, but to do so in the cost-effective, prioritized style that is Day’s natural approach, taking on the problems one at a time. The windows were first. To do the job, the co-op refinanced its underlying mortgage for $25 million, and used a portion of that to pay for the property-wide window replacement, which cost between $1.4 and $1.5 million, Day reports. An engineer, Ulysses Arteaga, was hired to write the specs, and, after a sealed bid process, Pella Windows was hired as the contractor.
The windows were probably the most problematic area the co-op encountered. “We didn’t know what was behind the walls until we took the old windows out,” explains the president. “We did an exploratory project for the windows in different areas of the development prior to doing the entire place just to see what we were getting ourselves into, and lo and behold, we came up with some rather startling disclosures on things, and we had to basically readdress how we were going to do the windows as far as framing and everything else went.”
The problem was that the old framing could not hold the new windows in place and almost every window had to be reframed, essentially making each one a customized job. “It took about a year and a half,” Day says. “It was a long process.” Besides the painstakingly slow work to custom-fit the windows, the board also had to cope with access to the units, a scheduling nightmare involving 490 apartments. The work began in July 2009 and ended in October 2010.
After that, the co-op turned to its second problem area: the roofs. “The roofs were in pretty bad shape. We probably spent about $250,000 to $300,000 a year on band-aid repairs,” Day notes, “and we said, ‘This is just ridiculous.’ So again, we got several bids in, and we did the entire roof project in less than one year, replacing all the roofs and all the leaders and gutters and downspouts. That was a huge project. It went extremely well. We had very few complaints.” The work on the 23 roofs (and the garages) was performed by J.C. Roofing. Work began in April 2013 and finished in November of that year. The cost was $1.5 million.
The final project is the conversion of the six heating plants from oil to natural gas (dual fuel). It also includes an independent hot water system so that during the summer months, Day says, “we can completely take the boilers offline, do whatever maintenance and upkeep is responsible at that point in time, and still have the domestic hot water for all the units at a lesser BTU cost.” The contractors, selected following a sealed bid process, are Extreme Heating and Plumbing and Efficient Combustion and Cooling. Work began in 2012 and is still under way. The estimated cost is $1.5 million.
It is a tribute to Day’s approach that this remarkable three-part project was accomplished with relatively few difficulties. “You have to be a team player,” he says. “You have to work closely with people. We have a board, and everyone has an equal voice. And sometimes the decisions that we come to are compromises; over the years, we have [made] some tough decisions on various issues that I would rather not get into, but we always walk away as board members and we also maintain relationships as friends.”
This point of view, he says, came from his involvement in his local church, and from spending time at the Passionist Retreat House in Jamaica Estates. “The Passionists are an order of Catholic priests who have a retreat house where you can get away for a weekend,” Day explains. “You can just get away from the grief and toil of everyday life and spend a weekend in prayer and meditation and recharge your batteries. It helps me keep things in perspective. You see other people’s problems, and sometimes what we address at the co-op as ‘problems’ really aren’t problems. You look at people who are dealing with cancer and then [at the co-op] you have somebody complaining about a barking dog. You realize that it’s a nuisance, but it’s not the end of the world.”