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REPLACING WINDOWS: THREE CASES

Replacing Windows: Three Cases

Sept. 30, 2009 — Replacing windows can be a delicate, costly operation, loaded with both peril and possibility. Three very different co-ops in three very different parts New York City took three very different approaches to this tricky procedure, yet were all equally successful. How did they do it? We tell you the exact, specific steps — from initial decision, to securing financing, to using a consultant, to the capital improvement itself.

TRUMP VILLAGE, BROOKLYN

Built in 1964 by The Donald's father, Fred Trump, the co-op complex Trump Village Section 3 (click on top image to enlarge, click again to close) is a trio of 23-story towers containing 1,672 apartments of middle-class shareholders, about half of then senior citizens. Its board set out to replace 10,000 windows and 1,000 balcony doors.

The first step was to have committee visit other properties that had recently installed windows, to learn who was satisfied, who wasn't and why. The board also hired Gordon H. Smith Corp., an engineering firm that specializes in building exteriors, to draw up specifications.

"You need a good consultant who can identify your needs," says Barbara Escobar, the Trump Village property manager. "We had several issues — noise from the trains, the rain and wind, the salt air and the age of our shareholders. He specified a window that met our requirements."

Six contractors submitted bids, then made presentations to the board. Ecker Window, from Yonkers, won out. "The company has a good reputation," says Escobar, "and once the board saw the sample windows, they decided that's what they wanted."

Herbert Goldberg, a 27-year board veteran who now serves as treasurer, describes the choice of windows with an old phrase. "If you spend money, you get quality," he says. "We decided to spend the money so that the windows would stay with us for a long time." Just as important, "We had meetings so the shareholders knew they were getting something for their money." The cost of the job came to $7 million, which the board covered with three assessments and a dip into the reserve fund.

The window company has tackled other big jobs, but Trump Village presented unique challenges. Consultant Smith had "specified very thick glass because of the wind loads, and that means a heavy window," says Ecker. "But elderly people can't lift a lot of weight." Ecker turned to the manufacturer Graham Architectural Products of York, Penn.. The company, he says, "designed a special window using something called an ultra-lift balance that's easy to lift and lower." The balcony doors were equipped with an automatic closer that keeps them from blowing open or banging shut in the wind.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the project was its level of oversight: Smith's firm put a full-time person at the job location. "He inspected every single window every single day," says Ecker. "In effect, we completed the punch list every single day." As a result, when each window was finished, it was finished.

"It turned out to be more efficient to have a full-time inspector on the site," says Escobar, the property manager. "It was a little more costly up front, but it was well worth it in the long run because it was all done at one time and we didn't have to go back."

WINDSOR TOWER, MANHATTAN

At Windsor Tower, in the Tudor City complex near the East River in midtown Manhattan, replacing windows was a tricky proposition since the landmark building was, literally, a landmarked building — as in Landmarks Preservation Commission. When developer Fred F. French opened Tudor City in the late 1920s, this 12-building neo-Gothic oasis by architect H. Douglas Ives was the largest residential development in the five boroughs. It went co-op in the early 1980s and was named a historic district in 1988.

Vivienne Gilbert Habitat

The board of the 21-story, 800-unit Windsor Tower knew the building needed new windows. The original steel casement windows had never been replaced, and tended to leak air, dust and noise. "For as long as I can remember, people have complained about the windows," says Vivienne Gilbert (left), an attorney who moved into Windsor Tower 30 years ago and has been board president for the past 10. "But nobody ever did anything because of our landmark status."

That began to change three years ago, when the long-dreaded demolition of the nearby Con Ed steam plant finally got underway. With noise and dust filling the air — and with a major construction project scheduled to follow — apathy about their ancient windows turned into a sense of urgency among the shareholders.

"We did a building-wide survey to see if people were interested in replacing their windows," Gilbert says. "We called an informational meeting for shareholders." There, about 200 shareholders expressed interest in replacing their windows at their own expense. The cost would vary from about $3,000 to $5,000 per window, according to an estimate prepared by the co-op's longtime architects, Bertolini Architectural Works.

The board's first step was to devise a design that would win the Landmarks Preservation Commission's blessing, so in 2007 it instructed Bertolini to do a feasibility study. Based on samples of steel, aluminum and fiberglass windows, Bertolini recommended aluminum models manufactured by the 76-year-old company Skyline Windows.

 Next page: A financially strapped co-op finds a way >>

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