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Shattered Glass, p.2


The board went through months of meetings with specialists including the sponsor's architect, "who explained the design and helped us with the [ongoing city] inspections," says Moy. "Eventually, Cooper Square, pretty much took over," and in December 2009, FS Project Management, a subsidiary of Cooper Square, came aboard. It brought in an outside architect, says Moy, "and submitted plans back and forth between our board and Cooper Square and the buildings department."

FS's first step was to remove all the glass balcony-panels, ending the need for the unsightly wrapping and net. To prevent any resident from even accidentally wandering onto the now borderless balcony, the company secured the doors to prevent their opening from the inside -- and as an extra precaution, had workers on scaffolding physically block the doors on the outside, using two-by-fours.

Now it was time to examine the glass panels, and how they were designed and installed.

We had an insurance company

and a sponsor who expressed

 willingness to resolve the problem.

"The top of the glass was exposed," explains Tal Eyal, chief operating officer of Cooper Square Realty and head of FS Project Management, noting that, "The top is the weakest point of any glass." Eyal brought in engineer Russell H. Davies, then senior project manager of the New York City branch of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, and now director of façade engineering at SHoP Construction Services

"He met with me and with the architect, and we spent a bunch of hours trying to find an engineering way to solve it," Eyal says. "There were quite a lot of requirements we had to comply with, such as wind load, connections" — i.e., where the glass connects to balcony itself — "height requirements, and the [natural] shifting of the building." Glass, aluminum, and concrete move differently, he explains, when the building shifts with temperature changes. "We started talking with glass manufacturers and railing manufacturers to get input and costs."



There was also the issue of who was going to pay for all this. Given the previous two incidents of falling balcony glass, "It may have been a construction problem," Schwartz says. "But I don't think anyone can say with any certainty. I guess you could argue that the construction was defective because they shouldn't have kept the top of the balcony panels exposed, though that had been approved by the DOB and also approved at other projects. At unit-owners' meetings, people asked: ‘If the construction was defective, why don't we go after them?'"

No-Fault Line

Why not indeed? Moy and the other two non-sponsor members had to decide whether to sue.

"After extensive discussions with our counsel and Cooper Square, we felt it would be beneficial to present all the facts to the unit-owners in a public meeting, to let them take a role in what we would do," Moy says. "After 18 months without being able to use their balconies, people were very emotional. Some wanted to go to litigation. Then an offer came from the sponsor and the insurance company. We presented it to the unit-owners. All were in favor of the settlement."

The two things that tipped the matter, says Schwartz, were "the complexity of what caused the problem, and the fact that both the insurance company and the sponsor were committing significant sums of money." Those two parties and the unit-owners each put up about a third of the project's total cost of "close to $3 million." Cooper Square's Granda (right) says unit-owners were assessed $1.25 million over four months, which included a little extra to increase the reserve account.

"At times, you have to take the step of litigation," Schwartz concludes. "But what was most important here was the safety of everybody in the building and of [the pedestrians] below, so we had to act quickly to get the situation into a safe condition." Settlement in this case "made the most sense only because there were some difficult [causal] issues and we had an insurance company and a sponsor who expressed willingness to resolve the problem."

And in the end, there was a bright spot. Says Granda, "We found a small piece of information that really went over big — that owners were able to put in claims with their [own] insurance companies for ‘loss assessments.' We gave them the engineer's report, a copy of the capital-assessment letter, and a letter saying they'd paid. Several homeowners were able to recoup their assessment costs."


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

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