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A Facade Repair With Surprise Costs – What’s Not to Love?

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on April 7, 2021

Gramercy, Manhattan

Green roof, Climate Mobilization Act, Local Law 11, facade repair, carbon emissions.

An aerial view of the Gramercy House roof, soon to sprout with greenery (photo courtesy of ARC).

April 7, 2021

Two years ago, the seven-member board at the Gramercy House condop, a 17-story Art Deco beauty at 235 E. 22nd St. in Manhattan, thought it was embarking on a fairly routine $500,000-plus facade repair mandated by the city’s Facade Inspection and Safety Program, formerly known as Local Law 11. Today the board is in the early stages of a greatly expanded project that includes the facade repairs plus a roof replacement and the installation of a green roof, with plans to add solar panels in the future. The price tag has mushroomed to $3.8 million. The board couldn’t be happier.

“People love this building,” says Brian O’Connor, an architect who moved into the 339-unit building in 1997 and has served on the board since 2012. “There have been an enormous amount of capital improvements since the conversion in the 1980s. It’s a great tool for selling apartments when we can list the improvements. And in the long run, it saves money.”

Spending $3.8 million instead of $500,000 saves money? Well, yes. The board was dissatisfied with its original architect’s report on the needed facade repairs and likely costs, so it brought in Architecture Restoration Conservation (ARC) to do a thorough survey of the building. 

“They found a lot of problems,” O’Connor says, “including the terra cotta, lintels, brick pointing, parapets and penthouse roof.” While ARC was conducting its survey, the roof sprang major leaks. The board began to realize it needed to think much bigger than $500,000.

“They asked us to expand the job to include a replacement of the main roof,” says Cameron S. Lory, director of operations at ARC. She came up with a design that included a waterproof membrane on the concrete roof deck, topped with six inches of insulation, then a cladding that could support pavers – and more. Researching the Climate Mobilization Act, which will begin fining buildings that don’t reduce their carbon emissions below certain caps in 2024, Lory realized the new roof could be a source of significant savings. “A green roof with solar panels makes great economic sense,” she says. “It will put them in a position to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.”

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The board warmed instantly to the other benefits of a green roof: it controls storm water runoff, doubles the life expectancy of the roof from 20 to 40 years, and improves air quality by reducing the heat-island effect in the neighborhood. But the board balked at adding solar panels to this phase of the project. “We couldn’t find any examples of green roofs with solar arrays on prewar buildings,” O’Connor says, “and we didn’t want to be the guinea pig. It came down to money. We found that the green roof was less expensive than Cameron’s original proposal, but the solar part was extremely complicated. We decided to do a green roof that will allow us to install solar panels later.”

Now comes, perhaps, the best part. Since the board had refinanced its mortgage with Sterling National Bank last year and set aside $5 million for future capital projects – without increasing its monthly payment on the loan – the board is going to be able to pay for the facade and green roof project without assessing shareholders or increasing maintenance. The future savings will come without any perceptible pain. So, yes, spending money can save money.

“For us,” O’Connor says, “this project has been a win-win.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ARCHITECT: Architecture Restoration Conservation. CONTRACTOR: AWR Group. GREEN ROOF INSTALLER: New York Green Roofs. PROPERTY MANAGER: FirstService Residential New York. LENDER: Sterling National Bank.

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