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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021




This Co-op’s Parking Garage Went From Asset to Liability

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on March 17, 2021

Stamford, Connecticut

Parking garage, inspections, building code, co-op and condo boards.

The corroded steel beam (left) will be repaired while the temporary beam (right) plays the supporting role (image courtesy of Cowley Engineering).

March 17, 2021

Parking garages are a prized asset for co-op and condo boards – an amenity for residents as well as a valuable source of revenue that can help balance the budget. But those assets can – through neglect, bad luck or simple wear and tear – turn into costly liabilities.

It’s happening right now at a postwar, eight-story co-op in Stamford, Conn., that has a two-tiered, 80-space parking garage – one at ground level, the other below ground. Shareholders in a line of apartments directly above the garage recently informed the property manager that they were hearing noises coming from below, and they were seeing cracks inside their apartments. The manager called Cowley Engineering.

“One of my guys went out and visited every unit on the F line,” says Eric Cowley, the firm’s president. “He found some cracks in the apartments on the two lower floors that seemed trivial. To his credit, he went into the parking garage and saw that one of the load-bearing columns was buckling – it had moved horizontally and dropped about an inch. My first reaction was to get shoring in there immediately.”

Then came a fraught question: Should the building be evacuated? Cowley was able to determine that the garage, with proper shoring, was not in danger of collapse. As a precaution, all cars were removed from the upper level and from spots adjacent to the work area on the lower level while 25 temporary columns, called adjustable shores, were installed.

The culprit was groundwater under the garage’s poured-concrete floor, which had migrated through the floor and corroded one of the steel columns that support the steel beams. After installing a temporary steel column, crews are now removing the corroded section and splicing in new steel that will be bolted and welded into place.

The problem went undetected because all the columns had been wrapped with mesh that was then coated with plasterboard – a method of fireproofing the columns as well as softening any blow from cars. It also made the buckling invisible to the untrained eye.

“What you don’t see can hurt you,” Cowley says. “A lay person wouldn’t notice that the column’s wrapping was wider at the bottom than at the top. And he wouldn’t wonder why.” An engineer, on the other hand, would wonder why. And he would conclude that the column had buckled – a dangerous situation.

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Cowley’s crew inspected the other 29 columns and found only one that will require a new piece of steel. All columns on the lower level will be waterproofed up to eight inches above the floor. The job – which came as a surprise to the co-op board – will cost about $50,000. Not devastating, but enough to qualify it as an unpleasant surprise.

Different jurisdictions have different requirements for the inspection of parking garages. In 2019, New York State began mandating inspections every three years by approved engineers. New York City has been developing even stricter rules that may be released later this year. 

Cowley advises boards to take charge of their own fates. “Boards should establish an inspection program for their garage every five years,” he says. “The initial one should be the most extensive – when you establish the baseline of the garage’s current condition. Check it again in five years, and when you find out how much work is needed, you can figure out how much to budget every year for future repairs. Keep the problems small and out in front of you. The goal is to avoid an emergency like this one.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ENGINEER: Cowley Engineering. CONTRACTOR: Culbertson Co. of New York.

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