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Board Service: How a Co-op Turned a Gas Outage into a Positive

Alan Kramer, President, 17 W. 67th Street. One in an occasional series of real-life stories by board members about serving on co-op and condo boards. in Board Operations on January 5, 2012

Upper West Side, Manhattan, 17 W. 67th Street

Co-op Board President Gas Outage
Jan. 5, 2012

And indeed, what proved unique to me about 17 West 67th Street was that the owners all knew each other, and it was more like a family than just a group of people living behind locked doors. Holiday parties brought people together even more.

Because of my CPA background, I was asked to join the board, and I later became its president. As this was the first co-op board I had ever joined, I had to feel my way through some difficult decisions, management changes and so forth. I found the time element consuming and left the board to others. While I was away, my wife spent many years as a member, and as president for a significant period of time.

Fifteen years later, I received a call from the president of the board, who convinced me to join again. Technology (PCs and mobile phones) made communication easier, so I agreed to come back.

After looking at the mess with which we were dealing, we hired a new manager (Michael Wolfe of Midboro Management), a new attorney (Geoffrey Mazel of Hankin & Mazel), and a new CPA (Carole Newman of Newman, Newman & Kaufman). With this management team, I believed the board could now spend its time dealing with professionals who would be totally responsive to our needs. We were correct because they were, and continue to be.

Meter Made

However, no one could have prepared us for what was about to happen on April 27, 2010. A meter reader from Con Edison reported a gas odor from one of our "in-apartment" meters. Fast-forward to Con Edison shutting down the supply of gas to our entire building. When this happens, even in an 80-year-old property in Manhattan, it is our job not only to find the leak, but to bring the entire building up to present-day code. All before you can apply for gas service to be restored.

We called our management team and began to understand the process — and the potential costs — to accomplish all these goals. Fortunately, board member Grant Varga, who also happens to be an engineer, together with our hands-on superintendent, Tony, managed this enormous undertaking.

This allowed removal of all 60

of our individual apartment

meters, and slashed gas costs.

What was timely for our building at this point was that we had been talking about putting in a master gas meter. This allowed removal of all 60 of our individual apartment meters, slashed gas costs and eliminated the monthly meter reader. We decided to combine all the repair work with the master-meter project. Two birds with one bullet!

The other significant problem was how to keep our building calm and go without gas for so many months. In addition, we had to explain that the building was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix this problem. Also alternate laundry arrangements were made because of the loss of our gas dryers.

We sent memos and called "town hall" meetings to get everyone up to speed. And then explained, explained and explained again. Communication kept every resident completely up to date and in the loop.

Having a board member on the job meant that the process was organized, focused and efficient. We were on a first-name basis with many plumbers from Fred Smith Plumbing, and we tapped into their experience with other gas outages.

Because of the board's tight involvement with this enormous project, we were able to keep the costs down significantly and, just as important, the owners fully informed.

In mid-December, after seven-and-a-half months, Con Ed turned our gas back on — just in time to celebrate at our lobby holiday party. We had a wonderful celebration, and the current board ran unopposed at the next annual shareholders' meeting.

 

From the January 2012 issue of Habitat magazine. For print-magazine articles back to 2002, join our Archive >>

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