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Never Mind the Windows, A Board Upgrades the Boiler

Tom Soter, with additional reporting by Kathryn Farrell in Bricks & Bucks

51 Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Village, New York City

51 Fifth Avenue
51 Fifth Avenue

The two main costs of a conversion project like this one are the price of all work within a building's property line — typically referred to as the "internal conversion cost" — and the amount Con Edison requires to provide a gas line to the building — known as the "capital construction cost." That second cost would be eliminated if the building signed up for Con Ed's oil to gas conversion program.

"If you are able to get the gas just by having a pipe brought into the buildings from the street because there's enough available capacity, you should take advantage of it," Kornfeld says. "It'd be silly not to."

Many properties have made the switch already, and existing city buildings will be required to use No. 2 or No. 4 oil or gas by mid-2015, under a 2011 rule. If they choose to use No. 2 or No. 4 oil, they will have to change again to biodiesel and/or natural gas by 2030.

The co-op board had taken two steps to fund that project: it marketed and sold a unit that until recently was the home of a rent-stabilized tenant; and it refinanced the building's underlying mortgage.

While the directors, led by the president, Sheila Scott, initially told Kornfeld that they wanted to replace the windows in the 1920s-era building first, after some discussion, they decided to do the boiler gas retrofit instead (they feared that they might lose their free gas hook-up because of its limited availability).

After multiple bids, Ventrop Engineering was hired to "evaluate the heating system and the project," says Kornfeld. "There were things you have to find out like, do you need to line the chimney and can you use the existing one?" Kornfeld says. "These are factors that have to be analyzed so you know what your costs are going to be. You can't just go in blind, right?"

Since the co-op was using the existing boiler and retrofitting the burner, the costs were mainly for repiping the gas and running an extension of the steel chimney up the building.

The next step was to hire a contractor, and a multi-bid process wound up with National Mechanical, a firm Kornfeld had used previously. The $314,000 job, begun in late 2013, stretched to early 2014. The final approvals from Con Ed and the Department of Buildings (DOB) were a long time coming, with sign-offs in late 2014.

"We had to go back and make some corrections after the DOB made comments that they wanted certain things adjusted," explains Kornfeld. "Then they have to come back and re-inspect. That's a process."

And the reaction of the shareholders to the costly job? "I don't think anybody was negative, nobody really seems to mind," the agent observes. "The only thing they care about in this building is: 'What's it going to cost me? Do I have to dip into my pocket? Is there going to be an assessment?' As long as there's no assessment and there's no major maintenance increase then most people are happy."

Thanks to Ira Meister, president of Matthew Adam Properties, for his help


Ellen Kornfeld, vice president, the Lovett Company and managing agent

Sheila Scott, board president

Ventrop Engineering, evaluated heating system and project

National Mechanical, contractor


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Photo by Andrew Stevens for Property Shark. Click to enlarge.

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