Superintendent Freddie Rivera
771 West End Avenue
Upper West Side
Freddie Rivera was concerned. The longtime superintendent at the 73-unit co-op at 771 West End Avenue says he was supervising a major capital improvement job and noticed there was “a water leak in the oil tank room. It was on the top of the brand new oil tank; you could see the marks of the water.” He immediately called the building engineer, who was supervising the capital project.
“They found that the support beams below the sidewalk had rusted and expanded,” Rivera recalls. Everything came to a halt as the engineer investigated the situation further to determine what action was needed.
It was just one of those days. The rusting support beams have simply been another challenge that Rivera and the board have had to face when dealing with an elegant but aging (built in 1915) property on West 97th Street. The board generally stays on top of the situation, observes Ellen Kornfeld, vice president and partner at the Lovett Group, the building’s manager. “They like to get involved in projects.” Indeed: for the last several months or so, the board members have been supervising some expensive jobs, ranging from a $92,283 oil tank replacement to a $561,873 boiler tank conversion.
Says Rivera: “This morning I met with [board member] Peter Deming. He’s an engineer. By profession, his field of expertise is building foundations. He is the one who has actually been helping every one of us, including me, because he’s more knowledgeable about this type of work. This morning, we had a meeting, and we discussed some things that he wanted me to tell the contractor.”
Kornfeld reports that Deming has been very active with the nine-member board. That group includes some people “who are very financially savvy. One runs a hedge fund. One is a managing director of a major bank, in the investment division. We have a couple of attorneys too.”
To do the recent capital work, the board has taken out a line of credit. But the building also has a healthy reserve fund thanks to “the most unusual flip tax I’ve ever seen,” says Kornfeld. “It is ten percent of the difference between the purchase and the sale price of the property. If you bought it at $80,000 and sold it for $2 million, that’s quite a lot of money in one flip.
“They rely heavily on [the flip tax] to address capital projects,” she continues. “They might get a $200,000 payday when an original purchaser is selling. With that flip, they’ve done their lobby, their hallways, and their roof deck. I have never encountered this before. Most people have a flat two percent flip tax. I’ve seen one percent, but I’ve never seen ten percent between the profit and the sale price.”
The recent capital work has been costly. The burner had actually been replaced two years ago at a cost of $70,590, but eventually the building needed a new boiler too. The impetus for that was Local Law 43. Instituted five years ago, it requires all buildings in the five boroughs using No. 6 heating oil to switch to a cleaner alternative, either No. 2 or No. 4 oil, or else natural gas. “Burning oil was getting expensive,” says Kornfeld. Adds Rivera: “They decided that it would be better to do the gas conversion now.”
The co-op hired RAND Architecture & Engineering to get sealed bids from boiler companies for a dual system, allowing the use of either gas or oil. Champion Combustion, the building’s current service company, was chosen as the contractor.
On May 22, more problems arose: the boiler was the wrong size and had to be redone. RAND said there would need to be additional “excavations,” all of which would delay the rest of the work.
The next step – bringing the gas to the boiler – was time-consuming. It involved a 100-year-old “underground breaching” – an underground passageway that runs from the boiler room down to the basement floor into the courtyard and into the wall and up to the roof into a brick chimney. That chimney had to be lined with stainless steel. “You can’t burn gas without the chimney being encapsulated in stainless steel lining,” Kornfeld says. But putting in that steel lining took time.
“We had to do that because of the location of the boiler room,” explains Rivera. “The boiler room is sitting practically in front of the building, and there’s no way for us to run a metal chimney outside in front of the building. It’s going to look very ugly.”
All the projects, excluding the burner replacement, started in March. As of early October, the job was still underway.
Rivera says it is a busy time for the building. “When we were doing the underground breaching, they needed to open the floor in the courtyard. We have condenser units for the air-conditioning in the elevator. We needed to call the service company for the air-conditioner company in order to relocate the condenser. There are things that we come across, and they usually add to the cost. There are always issues that are found.”