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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Seeing It Through

The 16-member board at the Clinton Hill Cooperative in Brooklyn got an infusion of new blood in January 2016. After bringing in a new management company, Charles H. Greenthal/MGRE, the new board members discovered they had inherited some pounding headaches. Among the worst was the bids the former board had received for replacing all 7,000 of the co-op’s windows. They were, to put it kindly, a mess. The board had to go back to square one.

As the Clinton Hill board was about to learn, repairing or replacing windows is a massive job. The challenges run the gamut – preparing residents for major disruptions, inspecting apartments, choosing window specifications and vendors, orchestrating the work schedules, getting approvals, if necessary, from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). And then, of course, there’s the matter of paying for the job.
Here’s a look at six properties and how each handled the different aspects of window repair or replacement.

The Vermeer

Before the first window is installed, contractors should inspect every apartment. “The point of those inspections is to find out who’s hoarding, what surprises there might be, who’s got a lot of stuff obstructing the windows,” says John Devall, an account executive at Orsid Realty and the property manager at the Vermeer, a 21-story co-op at 77 Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, which recently replaced more than 3,000 windows in its 354 units.

Before choosing a vendor for the job, the board arranged for a few manufacturers to bring mockup windows to the annual shareholders’ meeting so that people could see and operate them and provide input about the ones they preferred. “I’ve never seen another building do that where they actually have real windows set up in the boardroom so people could come by and see them,” Devall says. The last thing a board wants is for the contractor to arrive on the day of installation and find surprises. To prevent that, the Vermeer board hired a carpenter to remove shelves and other fixtures that abutted window frames, then restore them to their original condition after the window installation was complete.

Still, there were surprises. During the first installation, dust and debris came pouring into the apartment when the contractor ripped out an old window. “We weren’t prepared for that,” Devall says. “[The board] paid a staff member to prep every apartment prior to the window installation, which meant putting plastic wrap up, covering the furniture, covering wall hangings.”To pay for the job, the board refinanced the building’s underlying mortgage, pumping an additional $2 million into the reserve fund, which combined with the $4 million already there, was more than enough to cover the entire cost of the project. “It’s much more palatable to shareholders to hear that they’re not receiving a special assessment,” says Devall. “They’d much rather hear that you’ve refinanced the mortgage, and they have to pay a little more in debt service and their maintenance goes up a little bit.”

470 Convent Avenue

The board of the six-story co-op at 470 Convent Avenue in Harlem’s Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill Historic District knows just how complex and protracted the process can be to get a window-replacement plan approved for a landmarked building. While doing facade work, the board decided to replace all windows because it suspected that masonry defects around the windows were contributing to air and water leaks.

To get approval from LPC to replace the windows, boards often have to file a master plan. It sets forth standards for future changes and identifies them by drawings, including large scale-details of existing and proposed conditions, plus the design and location of proposed changes. For 470 Convent Avenue, a master plan was not required but the process was prolonged because available historical photographs of the property didn’t show the window details closely enough, says Albelisa Kemp, senior project associate and Historic Preservation Group Manager at RAND Engineering & Architecture, the firm the co-op hired.

A director at LPC located a historic photo of the building through the Museum of the City of New York. “Through their online archives you could zoom in to see the historic configuration and details of the windows,” Kemp says. The original windows had been simple, bronze-colored, one-over-one paned windows, but RAND proposed a design consisting of six small, double-hung panes on top and one single pane on the bottom. When the historic photo showed the finish to be lighter than the finish on the facade, LPC asked RAND to examine each window for any remaining wooden elements. Finding original trim with paint on it on one fire-rated window, RAND ordered a paint analysis from Jablonski Building Conservation. Jablonski recommended a light beige color thought to best match the original paint. The LPC approved.

Hiring an architect who understands how the LPC works “takes a lot of pressure off of a board,” says Shay Gines, the board president at 470 Convent Avenue. She suggests allotting at least six months for LPC approval before ordering windows from a manufacturer. And since the optimal time to install windows is during the spring and summer months, boards need to start the process well in advance.

5 Tudor City Place

The 788-unit co-op at 5 Tudor City Place, on the East Side of Manhattan, hired Bertolini Architectural Works to handle the master plan for its windows-replacement project. Bertolini selected an aluminum frame made by Skyline Windows that’s often approved for replacement projects, according to Eric Vonderhyde, a principal, who guided the project to completion. Since it was the first windows-replacement project in the Tudor City historic district, LPC scrutinized the submission. “And they went so far as to request that Skyline and another manufacturer, Panorama, redesign their profiles a little bit to be more in keeping with what the commission was looking for,” Vonderhyde says.

Although 5 Tudor City Place needed three public hearings to get approval, public hearings are not required when a landmark building replaces an old window with a new one of the same kind and material. But because steel casements no longer comply with New York City’s energy code, Bertolini proposed an aluminum-framed window that meets thermal efficiency standards. After the second public hearing, both vendors installed samples in the co-op’s mailroom, which enabled LPC preservationists, commissioners and board members to see them from the street.

Tudor Tower

Approval of the master plan for 5 Tudor City Place allowed Bertolini to initiate similar projects in other Tudor City buildings, since a baseline for future projects was established. There are cases, however, where an existing master plan doesn’t save time for neighboring buildings in the same complex. For Tudor Tower, the 439-unit co-op at 25 Tudor City Place, it took more than two years to go from planning to installation. That was because air-conditioning units had to be installed in the windows when through-the-wall units couldn’t be accommodated, says Rebecca Zanes, general manager of PRC Management, the co-op’s property manager.

Two additional window replacements at Tudor Tower since 2015 have been much easier. With a master plan already in place, the only filing required for subsequent offerings is a permit to proceed, which LPC tries to grant within 30 days. “As long as it’s in conjunction with the master plan, and there’s no changes to it, it’s more of a rubber stamp from [LPC] so shareholders know going in what they’re filing for and what they expect to be approved,” says Zanes.

The Piermont

For boards that are replacing windows on a lot-line that abuts adjoining structures, a permit from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) is required. Windows on property lines have to be fire-rated and equipped with a mechanism that allows a window to close automatically, preventing fire and smoke from spreading between buildings. After the engineering firm files a permit, it can take the DOB one to three months to grant approval, which certifies that the new windows and their proposed installation methods conform to the city’s building code, says Gene Ferrara, president of JMA Consultants, who managed this process for The Piermont, a 130-unit, postwar co-op at 201 West 21st Street in Chelsea.

The Piermont replaced three kinds of windows – sliders, double-hungs and glass terrace doors – in about 250 openings, 38 of which were on the building’s northeast lot-line. Samples of a slider and a double-hung window were installed in one apartment and tested before full installation. The contractor, Adler Windows, attended a couple of board meetings to explain how it would go about the project.

“The contractor is required to measure each and every apartment,” Ferrara says, “and those that he has questions about or that have special conditions, we go in with the project manager to verify what has to be done and what preparations need to be made by the occupant.”

JMA also worked with FirstService Residential, the building’s property manager, to coordinate scheduling of the installation with shareholders. In some cases, furniture or built-in fixtures that abutted window frames had to be removed or modified. After installation, FirstService went back into each apartment to make sure everything was installed properly.“It’s important when you get a DOB permit that it also gets signed off at the DOB after the work is completed.” Ferrara says.

Clinton Hill

Which brings us back to the window project at Clinton Hill. When the new directors got elected in January 2016, the co-op was in trouble. “The place was in horrendous shape,” says Steve Greenbaum, director of property management with Greenthal. “Our whole team came in and put a full-court press on that property.”

One of the first jobs was to rewrite the previous board’s specs for the window replacements, then seek new bids. “We worked through the numbers and narrowed it down to two bids,” says George Switzer, an architect who is among the newly elected group of board members. “We did factory visits and site visits – of jobs the companies were working on and jobs they’d completed. It came down to the personalities of the two companies. Kelly Window Systems is a family-run company, very folksy and informal. Also, they both manufacture and install their windows, so we would have one point of contact. There wouldn’t be any delays or finger-pointing between the manufacturer and the installer.”

The board was able to pay for the $5 million job out of its reserve fund, but the board’s capital improvement committee, which was running the replacement project, kept pushing to improve the deal. “We could have been more efficient, but we decided to study some things in depth,” says Switzer, who sits on the committee. “We did an 11th-hour side study on the most energy-efficient windows, including European brands that give better performance.”

But since half of the co-op’s 12 buildings are in the Clinton Hill Historic District, winning approval of the LPC would have been dicey. So the board stuck with the original double-pane insulated windows and aluminum frames, which are designed to prevent hot or cold air from penetrating the frames and entering the buildings’ interiors. But the board managed to negotiate two major improvements: Kelly agreed to use a more energy-efficient sealant between the window frames and walls at no extra cost, and it offered to add a heat-resistant coating to the windows for just $50,000.“We got a major improvement in the solar-heat gain – how much heat penetrates the glass,” Switzer says. The addition is expected to pay for itself many times over in savings on cooling costs. Installation of Clinton Hill Co-op’s 7,000 windows began shortly after New Year’s Day.

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