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The Green team

Call them the Green Team. They are Kimberly Schwab, a former associate director at Battery Park City Parks; Osi Kaminer, who works in software sales; and Leslie Zema, a retired dance instructor. They comprise the green committee at the Park Terrace Gardens co-op in upper Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood. Thanks to their hard work, this 397-unit, five-building, prewar complex’s energy bills have been slashed by more than $100,000 annually.  The changes started a few years ago when the city passed Local Law 84, which requires large buildings to submit yearly data on energy and water usage, a process known as benchmarking. For the three members of the Park Terrace Gardens green committee, it was a baptism by fire.

“We had to learn how to get the numbers from Con Ed for the whole co-op, the common areas and individual units, how to aggregate them, and how to score them – things that we had absolutely no idea how to do,” says Kaminer.  Working with Douglas Elliman, the co-op’s management firm, the group quickly brought itself up to speed. In the process, Schwab and Kaminer realized that there was a lot Park Terrace could do to become more energy efficient. They began researching cost-effective ways to address their co-op’s unique problems.

Not Just the Low-Hanging Fruit

To begin with, there had been longtime complaints about heating imbalances. The green committee came up with a simple questionnaire and slipped copies under apartment doors. “Amazingly, out of 397 units, 318 of them replied,” Schwab says. “We had no idea that some apartments were so hot in winter that people weren’t just opening their windows, but actually turning on the AC. From that point on, we were on a mission.”  In 2012, the committee forged ahead with the energy audit and system tune-ups required by Local Law 87, an expansion of Local Law 84. After diligently vetting several engineering firms, the committee went with Bright Power. As the report was being prepared, Schwab and Kaminer did more homework, attending conferences on how to comply with Local Law 87.  When James Hannah, vice president of client energy services at Bright Power, presented his findings, the green committee gave him a pleasant surprise. “They didn’t want to just pick the low-hanging fruit and do the minimum retro-commissioning, like a boiler tune-up, to meet city requirements,” Hannah says. “They wanted a top-to-bottom job.”

That would include installing high-capacity vents on riser lines and steam mains, upgrading to internet-enabled controls with wireless temperature sensors, and insulating bare piping. There were also such simple measures as installing weatherstripping and LED lighting, and recommendations to cover the AC units left in windows during the winter. The $430,000 project would pare Park Terrace’s energy use by at least 15 percent, thereby qualifying the co-op for a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), covering half the total cost. And by slashing the property’s energy bills by around $100,000 annually, Park Terrace would recoup its investment in as little as three years. After that, it was money in the co-op’s pocket.

A Lot of Late Nights

“We sat down and ran the numbers, which were very compelling,” says Kaminer. “To us, it seemed like a no-brainer.” Even so, it would be a challenge getting the nine-member board to go for it. The building was already in the midst of an expensive facade repair, and some members had concerns about the logistics of carrying out both jobs at once. thers worried that the work might not get done in time to meet NYSERDA’s timetable, which required that the project be completed within one year of grant approval. “There were trust issues, too,” Kaminer adds. “Some people doubted whether NYSERDA would really come through if we took this leap.”

Before Bright Power’s Hannah met with the board, he and the committee exchanged several rounds of written questions and answers. “They helped me understand the politics of the board, what evaluation criteria they would use, and which members had specific concerns,” Hannah says. “That way, I wouldn’t get blindsided by questions I didn’t anticipate, and I could present the project in the right way.”  It took half a dozen meetings over the course of a year before Bright Power finally got the green light in 2013. “Let’s just say there were a lot of late nights in Inwood,” says Hannah. “There seemed to be so many conflicting opinions and many concerns. But the green committee helped us navigate every conversation with the board so we could work around all the issues until there were no more objections.”

Once work began, the committee teamed up with management and on-site supers to schedule the in-unit work and make the process as painless as possible for shareholders. Schwab, Kaminer, and Zema interacted with people daily, updating them on the work, distributing flyers on how to install weatherstripping and AC covers, and holding hands-on demonstrations in the conference room on how to install LED lights. After the large projects and NYSERDA’s three inspections were completed, thank-you flyers were posted in the elevators. The committee even put handwritten thank-you notes under the doors of eighth-floor shareholders, since they were the most inconvenienced. “As we saw it, this wasn’t just a conversation between the committee and board members,” says Kaminer. “We wanted it to be a conversation between one shareholder and another.”

The results have far surpassed expectations. Since work was completed in 2014, Park Terrace has reduced its heating fuel use by 19 percent and is saving an average of $109,000 annually. “In a co-op our size, there needs to be a lot of standing committees the board can delegate responsibilities to,” says Todd Lamb, who joined the board in 2016 and became president in November 2017. “Ideally, you rely on them to deliver projects with short paybacks and lots of savings – and that’s just what the green committee did.” For his part, Hannah was so impressed that he asked for their instructional flyers to give to future clients.

And the Green Team? It has already moved on to the next big thing. “We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to meet the regulations requiring air conditioning in elevators,” says Kaminer. “We’re thinking about rooftop solar panels that would feed into our existing AC system, and, of course, we’re trying to find out if there might be NYSERDA funding for it. After that, we want to look into a green roof system that will hold stormwater and prevent sewer overflows. And, of course, we’re looking for a grant for that, too.”

It’s a lot of hard work, but Schwab wouldn’t have it any other way. “When we took this on, the perceived wisdom was that old buildings couldn’t do much to improve their energy efficiency,” she says. “It took us three frustrating years, but it’s very satisfying that we persuaded the board to get this done. It took endless emails, a lot of patience and persistence, and a willingness to educate.” A committee will be more successful, she adds, “if you talk about going green in terms of dollars, not the environment. Boards are always concerned about numbers, as they should be. And nothing speaks louder than numbers.”

At Park Terrace Gardens, the numbers have added up to a dream come true.

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