New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

BRICKS & BUCKS

BUILDING PROJECTS IN NYC CO-OPS/CONDOS

A Century-Old Condominium Gets 21st Century Smarts

Paula Chin in Bricks & Bucks

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Apthorp condominium, building management systems, RGBS Enterprises, Gumley Haft.

The Apthrop (left) and controls for the building management system (left photo via Google Maps, right photo courtesy of RGBS Enterprises).

You wouldn’t know from looking at it, but the century-old Apthorp, a gem of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture at 390 West End Ave. on the Upper West Side, is thoroughly modern on the inside. Built in 1908, the 12-story, 161-unit condominium had an aging building management system (BMS) that was sorely in need of an upgrade. Incorporating state-of-the-art technology into a 113-year-old landmarked property presented a unique challenge for the condo board.

The original system, which was installed more a decade ago, had fallen behind the tech curve. In 2018, not long after Gumley Haft began managing the Apthorp, the company brought in RGBS Enterprises, a Staten Island-based firm that specializes in installing energy and building-automation systems, to bring things up to speed. 

“Basically, a BMS is a network of microcomputers that are placed throughout a property to collect temperature and other information and share that data between themselves,” says Russell Giambrone, a principal at RGBS. The data is relayed to a central control hub, which makes adjustments to heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting – basically, anything in the building that uses energy. “It actually makes the building intelligent,” Giambrone says.

As with all things tech, smart systems need frequent upgrades to stay, well, smart. “It’s like having a computer,” Giambrone says. “If you don’t touch it for five or 10 years, it’s going to be out of date.” Sure enough, once he began troubleshooting, Giambrone found that the Apthorp’s system needed a serious overhaul. “We fixed valves that might have failed, and added additional alarms and other controls,” he says. “We also did some software upgrades so the cooling tower and the building’s air conditioning operate more efficiently.”

At the same time, Gumley Haft hired a new, tech-savvy resident manager, James Rauscher, who got a personal tutorial from Giambrone as RGBS was bringing the retooled system online. “I received training on how to navigate and use the system, as well as instruction on all the different physical components, from the motorized valves and transducers to the variable frequency drives,” Rauscher says. “At a glance, I can see how the building’s different mechanical systems are performing and if there are any issues. Alerts and status reports are sent by email and by text, and every aspect of the system can be controlled and adjustments made from my desktop computer, as well as from my laptop or mobile phone.”

The Apthorp isn’t relying just on Rauscher’s expertise, however. “Local 32BJ (of the Service Employees International Union) also teaches a class on using a BMS,” Rauscher says, “which is part of the union’s Green Training Program. We’ve encouraged other staffers to seek training.”

No matter who’s at the helm, the system is like having a round-the-clock crew whose only job is monitoring and minutely adjusting every valve, motor, fan, pump and heat exchanger in the building, based on operational needs and weather conditions. 

If the building is to remain smart, the upgrades can never end, and a major one is scheduled for later this year. “This building is wonderful, but it’s old,” says Michele Schlossberg, an account executive at Gumley Haft who is the condo’s onsite manager. “We’re going to keep adding new sensors, heat tracers and modules to the system.”

The Apthorp is in the process of starting benchmarking to track its energy usage and efficiency and to determine how much money it’s saving. “We believe we’ll recoup our investment within the next two years,” Schlossberg says. “The system is just fantastic.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS —  PROPERTY MANAGER: Gumley Haft. CONTRACTOR: RGBS Enterprises.

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