Tom Calandra has groomed dozens of building superintendents during his 23-year career, and by now he knows exactly what he’s looking for. “I’m looking for people who still want to learn and who understand that a building is a living, breathing entity,” he says. “People who want to know stuff and who ask questions.” People like Richie Tauer.
Tauer, 30, a son of blue-collar Staten Island, was working for an electrical contractor several years ago when he got an assignment to change some light fixtures at the elegant Greenwich Club Residences, a 38-story Art Deco condo tower in the Financial District, where Calandra is the resident super. The two hit it off, and when a handyman’s job came open on the 23-member staff in the fall of 2012,
Tauer jumped at it.
His baptism came not by fire, but by water – when Hurricane Sandy hit a month after he was hired. Water roared into the basement, electrical switches were swamped, and the building lost power. The staff had to rise to an unimaginable challenge, which began with pumping thousands of gallons of water out to the street. “It was horrible what happened,” Tauer recalls, “but it was a great way for me to get to know this building. I got a crash course. There’s no nook or cranny I haven’t been in.”
Some people are able to turn calamity into opportunity, and Tauer is one of them. His typical workday begins with a climb to the building’s roof, which affords sweeping views of downtown Manhattan, New York Harbor, and the Hudson River. Up there is the cooling tower, which Tauer checks meticulously – above and beyond the requirements of the city’s stringent new laws. Then it’s downstairs to check the four boilers, their pumps and thermometers, plus the two cogen systems and mechanicals for the 452-unit tower’s nine elevators. He walks the entire building at least once a week, floor by floor, roof to basement, looking for signs of imperfections, failures, or flaws.
Tauer wants to know stuff. He has made a point of learning the complex systems that make a New York high-rise function, taking free courses from his union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, and from the nonprofit Urban Green Council to gain knowledge of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, large refrigeration units, and holistic approaches to building energy efficiency. “It’s stuff I enjoy learning,” says Tauer, who has close-cropped hair and a quick smile. “I like having knowledge of the engineering and design of the equipment. I want to know what it’s doing, how it’s doing it, and why. If it breaks down, I want to know how to fix it. Plus, in class you hear other people’s problems and their experiences.”
It goes back to his upbringing in the New Springville section of Staten Island, where his father was a concrete worker on big construction projects and his mother was a homemaker. Tauer was a handy kid, and after graduating from Port Richmond High School, he went to work for a general contractor, then for the electrical contractor who led him, indirectly, to his current job. Along the way, he picked up a distinct ethic.
“If you’re going to do something, why do it halfway?” he says. “I got that from my parents. Some people do the bare minimum to stay afloat, but that’s just not me. No matter what you choose to do, do it with 110 percent, if not more.”
That philosophy has not gone unnoticed inside the Greenwich Club Residences. Viren Chandrasoma, a long-time member of the condo board, went away on vacation once and asked Tauer to keep an eye on his apartment. During one of his regular visits, Tauer discovered water raining from the apartment’s ceiling – from a busted air-conditioning unit upstairs. “There was significant damage to my floors,” Chandrasoma says, “but it could have gone to lower floors if Richie hadn’t detected it. That’s the way he is – if he says he’s going to do something, he does it. This is a very complicated building, and he and Tom Calandra are the most knowledgeable members of the staff. If something happens in my apartment, I call Richie directly.”
Tauer’s work ethic might soon pay dividends. Calandra is promoting him to become the inaugural resident super in a high-rise condo now under construction across the street. “Tom has mentioned this a bunch of times,” Tauer says. “He wants to see people do better for themselves and move on, if that’s what they want. He pushes you to learn more and do more.”
From where Calandra sits, Tauer is a natural for the job. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to get it,” Calandra says. “I know there’ll be no comparison to his knowledge of the mechanical equipment, electrical, HVAC systems. For anyone looking for a super to manage a building properly, Richie would be the person to go to.”
Tauer doesn’t want to jinx the deal, but he admits that he’s getting ready to update his résumé. “That’s definitely the next step – to have a building of my own,” he says. “It would let me use my skills and knowledge to the fullest extent, and it would test me.” A smile lights his face. “I’m still young – but why not?”