Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on July 7, 2021
When the co-op board at a century-old building on the Upper West Side got ready to replace the roof, the board members weren’t thinking only about preventing leaks. They were thinking about getting ready for the future.
Specifically, the seven board members at this 48-unit, 12-story building wanted a roof that could accommodate energy-efficient electric air conditioners, a first step toward cutting the building’s carbon emissions and complying with caps – and avoiding the fines – that will be phased in beginning in 2024 and 2030 under the city’s Climate Mobilization Act. Then the board went a step further and hired an architect to develop a long-range plan to cut emissions building-wide, beginning with the aging oil-fired boiler.
“It was an uphill battle,” says Eileen Koffler, who is stepping down as treasurer but will continue to serve on the board. The board had to convince shareholders that spending the extra money to install a structure to support condensers above the roof was a worthwhile expense. The clincher: “The first adopters, 18 of us, paid the lion’s share, and the co-op paid a small portion,” Koffler says. “Now there’s a space for every unit in the building. One of the selling points was that this is much more energy efficient than window units or robots. This is the kind of step they want you to take to comply with the Climate Mobilization Act.”
A major logistical challenge was where to run refrigerant lines from the rooftop condensers into the apartments on the A-line, including Koffler’s, which face the street. Since the building is in a historic district, the Landmarks Preservation Commission forbids external lines and through-wall units on street-facing facades. The solution was the serendipitous discovery of an empty shaft that runs from the first floor to the roof that could accommodate the refrigerant lines. Two of the “split” units are already up and running, with 16 more spots paid for – and possibly many more to come after that.
Now this forward-thinking board is looking even farther into the future. The board hired Eugene Architecture to develop a comprehensive plan on ways to improve the building’s performance. The firm has sent out requests for proposals, and the board is now interviewing mechanical engineers who will provide a feasibility study on the best way to upgrade the heating system. “We’re looking at the building as a holistic entity,” says Marshall Sellers, the principal at Eugene Architecture. “We’re looking at mechanical upgrades, performance upgrades, facade improvements, and we’ll help coordinate with the mechanical engineering team.”
Koffler stresses the importance of hiring the right people. “I think it’s really important to have somebody who knows the building and understands what the problems are,” she says. “People on boards – as we saw in Florida – need people who can guide them.”
Koffler, who used to work as a project manager, understands that many budget-conscious co-op and condo boards are terrified by the cost of the retrofits that will be required to cut their buildings’ carbon emissions. But she believes the time has come to move beyond old ways of thinking.
“Not everyone’s forward-thinking,” she says, “but buildings are assets that need to be maintained above and beyond their daily operating costs. People on boards tend to look only at their bank accounts – and they don’t think about the air their grandkids are going to have to breathe in 30 years. That’s what we’re trying to change. Ultimately, the Climate Mobilization Act is good for everyone.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ARCHITECT: Eugene Architecture. PROPERTY MANAGER: FirstService Residential. ENGINEER: RAND Engineering & Architecture.
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