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Habitat Magazine October 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Barons of the Boiler Room

Managing agent Maria Auletta of FirstService Residential recalls walking into the boiler room of the 162-unit Tracy Towers at 245 East 24th Street about a year ago. She was the new agent for the building and was floored to see such a clean boiler room. “It says a lot about the leadership of the building,” she observes. “I’ve been in property management for ten years and most boiler rooms are average at best. They have to be somewhat clean – but at Tracy Towers, you can eat off the floor. It’s that impressive.”

In comparison, Auletta remembers walking through a boiler room at a different building and seeing water bugs so big that she left the room. “No one wants to go into [those types of] boiler rooms,” she observes. Since the boiler room is rarely seen by shareholders, it can easily become a mess. In fact, its appearance can reflect on how the super does his job.

Frank DiBlasi, board president of Tracy Towers, says that he often shows slides of the cooperative’s boiler room to shareholders to illustrate that the building is well-maintained. “We could have meetings in there,” he notes. “There are some [boiler] rooms where you can’t take the stench. People look at it as a room that generates heat but it’s also a place where you can generate a lot of problems for the building.”

Boiler rooms: meticulously clean, well lit, and free of debris. What a concept. The three men who maintain the ones described here say that one element of a healthy building is a boiler that is in tip-top shape and in a clean room. It’s the kind of common sense that is not always so common.

 

Michael Smart , The Columbia, Manhattan

“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s worry about how the boiler room looks later,’ but if such a simple room is a mess imagine what else you are going to encounter,” says Michael Smart, resident manager at the Columbia on the Upper West Side, where two boilers dating back to 1983 provide heat for 302 units.

“I’m down there every day making sure everything is up to par,” he adds. That means spending an hour checking the water levels and steam pressure, cleaning the strainers and air filters either every week or every month, cleaning the sensors, and greasing the pumps and checking the steam traps. Seasonally, an outside company is called in to clean the tubes.

“The philosophy is simple: if you maintain the boiler well, it will run efficiently. I treat it like the heart of the building,” says Smart. When interviewing for jobs – he’s been at the Columbia for seven years – he toured some boiler rooms so dirty that he worried other problems lurked in the building. “The boiler room isn’t going to determine whether you take a [job] but it does play a part.”

 

Michael Leahy , Tracy Towers, Manhattan

Michael Leahy, 61, understands the need to baby a boiler room. As resident manager of Tracy Towers in Kips Bay for the last 30 years, he recalls when the building’s current boiler was installed in 1999. “The old one was hard to maintain. I was relieved to get a new one.”

Each month, he and his staff spend almost three hours cleaning the pipes. “We try to do as much as we can ourselves. If you aren’t on top of it, you are going to have a mess.” Leahy paints the area every year, slathering grey on the floor, blue on the boiler, and even adding a tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers (a painting of the helmet in a black and gold box is in the center of the room). He is a longtime Steelers fan, an obsession this Irish immigrant picked up from a former coworker at Con Edison in the 1970s. He added the icon because “it puts a smile on people’s faces.”

Still, there is a more practical purpose for keeping the area squeaky clean and appealing. It makes it easier to spot leaks. “If you have a dirty boiler room, you won’t notice them immediately,” says Leahy.

 

Avdi Rexhepi Skyview-on-the-Hudson, Riverdale

“If you keep the boiler room clean, you won’t have any problems,” predicts Avdi Rexhepi, 65, superintendent of Skyview-on-the-Hudson, a co-op in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. “The boiler is like a car. The way you maintain it is the way it is going to run.”

Rexhepi’s regular ritual includes checking the boilers daily for any potential problems, cleaning the strainers every week and the tubes twice a year, as well as painting the boiler room annually and sweeping the floor continuously. It’s at least five hours’ worth of attention every week. And then a company comes in to clean and insulate the doors, usually at the start of the heating season.

Each morning, when he arrives at work, he goes to the boiler room, which contains two silver boilers to heat 333 units. His goal is to make sure the red light that says “safety” isn’t on because that means something needs attention. At day’s end, before he leaves the building, he checks the safety light again.

“The worst thing is for a super to get a call that there is no heat. It’s personal for me because if I don’t have problems with the boilers, I don’t get calls. I don’t recall a day without heat and hot water unless there was a blackout,” he says.

Rexhepi, an immigrant from Kosovo, has been Skyview’s super for the past 37 years. He raised three children in the building where he currently lives with his wife. His youngest son and two grandchildren also have an apartment in the building.

“I know these boilers well,” he said, fondly recalling when they were installed in 1986 to replace three old ones that he remembers as “a lot of headaches, a lot of cleaning.”

 

The Men Without Fear

As each of these men is keenly aware, real estate agents and fire inspectors often show up at boiler rooms unannounced. They all say they are not worried about visitors. “I’m not hesitant about anyone coming into any room in this building at any time,” claims Leahy.

For property managers, a clean boiler room isn’t a bonus, it’s an essential. “It means the super is on top of his job. He has attention to detail,” says Michael Zerka of Blue Woods Management Group, which manages the Columbia.“This is probably the cleanest boiler room I’ve seen and the best maintained,” he adds.

The barons of these boiler rooms have a few things in common: all have immaculate offices, scuff-free work boots, and stain-free shirts. As for the condition of their homes, they give their wives all the credit. Their commitment to the boilers, they say, stems from a desire to do a great job, not obsessive compulsive disorder.

“I take pride in what I do,” says Smart. Agrees Rexhepi: “If your super doesn’t care, why have him there?” And Leahy adds: “When people say, ‘This is the best boiler I’ve ever seen,’ I feel good and it’s good to tell my staff.”

As for potential buyers, Rexhepi offers this advice: “Anyone who wants to buy into a building should look at the boiler room.”

 

 

 

 

Michael Smart
Resident manager at the Columbia
Age: 39
Years on the job: 7
Previous experience: resident manager at 210 Central Park South and assistant superintendent at 60 Sutton Place.
Personal life: Married high school sweetheart and has 12-year-old daughter. Born and raised in East Harlem, New York.
Boiler plan: “My philosophy is simple. I think of it like my heart. If I want it to operate properly, I [take care of myself]. A well-maintained boiler will allow the boiler to run efficiently and effectively.”

 

 

 

Michael Leahy
Resident manager at Tracy Towers
Age: 61
Years on the job: 30
Previous experience: boiler mechanic for Con Edison, part-time superintendent in Queens.
Personal life: Married with three children, ages 32, 30, and 28. Immigrated from County Kerry, Ireland, in 1971.
Boiler plan: “If you aren’t on top of it, you are going to have a mess…. If you have a dirty boiler room, you won’t notice the leaks.”

 

 

 

 

Avdi Rexhepi
Superintendent of Skyview-on-the-Hudson
Age: 65
Years on the job: 37
Previous experience: handyman work at the Lenox House on the Upper East Side, restaurant work at Stouffer’s in Manhattan.
Personal life: Married with three kids, ages 36, 34, and 32. Immigrated from Kosovo in 1973.
Boiler plan: “My advice is keep it clean…The boiler is like a car. The way you maintain it is the way it is going to run.”

 

 

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