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Co-op Board Softens the Sting of Soft Costs on Facade Project

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on May 18, 2022

Chelsea, Manhattan

Facade Inspection and Safety Program, Controlled Access Zones, condo board, facade repairs.

This Chelsea condo saved big money by closing off an indoor courtyard during a facade renovation project (photos courtesy of Bellet Construction).

May 18, 2022

For co-op and condo boards undertaking exterior repairs mandated by the city’s Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP), a major expense is high — and ever-rising — soft costs: engineer reports, permits, and pipe scaffolding and protective sidewalk sheds.

But the board at a 332-unit, 14-story condo in Chelsea recently learned that there’s a way to soften the sting of those soft costs. By creating what’s called a Controlled Access Zone — a private outdoor area that’s kept off-limits and thus doesn’t require protection from falling debris — the board saved more than $100,000 on the overall facade project.

“I thought of creating a Controlled Access Zone on this project, but I didn’t invent the mousetrap,” says Wayne Bellet, president of Bellet Construction, the contractor on the job. “Everyone is short of funds these days, so if there’s a way to keep expenses down, you do it.”

In this case, the board agreed that the building’s interior courtyard and inward-facing terraces would be off-limits to staff and residents during working hours. Signs were erected in English and Spanish, and yellow caution tape was put in place to remind people to stay out of the controlled area. But the precautions went to a higher level.

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“Somebody has to be responsible,” Bellet says, “and it has to be a qualified person on the staff. There’s no margin for error. You have to make sure that access to that area is absolutely controlled. You can’t overdo the precautions to prevent people from using that space while work is going on.” To back up the signs, warning tape and trained staff member, Bellet visited the site regularly to make sure protocols were being followed.

The work itself was routine. A report by Scope Engineering revealed that relatively minor repairs were required on the 16-year-old building, including several areas of cracked, spalling and displaced brickwork. Only one loose glass panel along a terrace parapet railing and a cracked windowsill were designated as “Unsafe.” All others conditions were “Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program.”

It’s important to note that it’s not possible to create a Controlled Access Zone on all jobs. FISP requires that all public rights of way within 20 feet of a work area must have protection for pedestrians and vehicles. These include sidewalks, streets and any other area accessible to the public. Since the inner courtyard at the Chelsea co-op was accessible only to staff and residents, it was exempt from the requirement for protective shedding. Similarly, a rear courtyard without public access would also be exempt.

“It’s so simple,” Bellet says of Controlled Access Zones. “It’s a cost saver — as long as it’s done properly. I do it as often as I can, provided people cooperate. Boards want to save money, but they have to train a qualified staff member.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — CONTRACTOR: Bellet Construction. ENGINEER: Scope Engineering. PROPERTY MANAGER: FirstService Residential.

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