Diana Virrill, 82, with snow white hair and an ebullience that lights up a room, loves her co-op, the 87-unit Hastings House. She has lived at the 1930s era complex in bucolic Hastings-on-Hudson for 50 years, raising two children with her husband and serving as board president for 34 of them. “The residents are a real mixture,” she says,“from new babies to 90-year-olds.” Virrill founded and directed a preschool at the Ardsley United Methodist Church, which she ran for 40 years. Since her retirement a few years ago, she has kept busy as the president of her co-op and chair of the Cooperative & Condominium Council of Westchester, an information resource for co-ops and condos in Westchester County.
Habitat: What’s the biggest challenge your board has faced recently?
Diana Virrill: Leaking in our underground garage. It was getting worse. Our garage, with about 50 parking spaces, is underneath our terrace, a huge esplanade space. We decided it was time, so we paid for it as a capital expense, using money from our reserve fund. It was a million-dollar job.
Habitat: What did you do?
Virrill: We had the entire terrace above the garage ripped up and a whole new liner had to be put in. It took six to eight months. The one thing we [did that was crucial], and thank God we did it, was we kept the shareholders apprised of every step. We had many meetings. Our managing agent also sent out newsletters, explaining the situation. The logistics of it were mind-boggling. It’s such a big complex – it covers 13 acres – that we had to make sure it was done piecemeal, so that the whole place wasn’t closed down at one time. We redid segments of the terrace, so people could go across [to get to their homes] while others had to go around to a back entrance. People had to be aware of the entrances they were going to use or couldn’t use.
Also, I had to get permission from the village police to park on Broadway, a state road, which basically has no parking and goes right past us. We had to empty out the garage in sections, because we couldn’t close the entire garage for any great length of time. We moved a group of cars to the street, and then, when that section was finished, we brought those cars back in and put the next section worth of cars out there.
Habitat: How many contractors did you interview?
Virrill: I think four or five, but we only put bids out with three. We went to visit some of the sites that these contractors had done, and we learned who not to choose. We talked to people at those buildings, and I’d [often turn] to David Guerrera [the property’s manager from Gramatan Realty] to get information.
Habitat: You relied on the managing agent?
Virrill: Absolutely, and if you don’t have a good one, you’re in trouble. You have to have guidance from your managing agent, your superintendent, and all your staffers on your property, because they’re going to be the main ones who are guiding and steering the project. Our superintendent was out there every single day. And there were also the seven members of the board. We all had a lot of input during the pre-planning and the working sessions.
Habitat: What is the lesson you offer to other boards taking on a job like this?
Virrill: Get your ducks in a row way ahead of time. In the beginning, it looks like, “Oh my God, this is more than we can deal with.” But as you go at it, piece by piece, you get all the puzzle pieces put on the side, and fill them in. It’s like doing an enormous jigsaw puzzle. Filling it in bit by bit, you suddenly see it coming together – and then [you see] it’s not as bad as it appeared to be on paper. It’s very exciting.
Habitat: You’ve been on your co-op board for more than three decades. What have you learned in that time?
Virrill: I learned you have to be responsive to shareholders’ needs and return phone calls. That’s very important, so that people know they are heard. Whether you agree – whether their complaint is reasonable – is not the point. It’s that their concerns have been heard, and you’re doing the best you can to bring a resolution.