Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on December 19, 2018
Some co-op and condo boards attack problems piecemeal. Others go at them whole-hog – and holistically. The board at the 297-unit Briar Oaks co-op in the Riverdale section of the Bronx is firmly in the latter camp.
One of the seven-member board’s smartest and most characteristic steps was to hire an engineer a decade ago to assess the property’s physical condition and likely future needs. Using the engineer’s report as a blueprint, the board has systematically undertaken capital projects at the two brick towers that sit on 10 acres, always keeping one eye on costs and the other on the future.
“We’re always looking where our weaknesses are, and asking how are we going to pay to address them,” says board president Mary Ann Dowling, now retired after a career working with bankers, corporate officers, and lawyers. “What’s helped me was my work experience. The exposure I got has helped me ask the right questions.”
After replacing the boiler in 2011, the board did mandated facade work two years later along with a hallway and lobby renovation and elevator upgrades. In 2017, the board replaced the roof on one of the two towers and ran a gas line from the street onto the property to power the dual-fuel boiler, which is able to run on No. 2 fuel oil or natural gas. The $800,000 roof job and $250,000 gas-line project were paid for with an assessment.
Now comes the good part. Taking advantage of rock-bottom interest rates, the board refinanced the underlying mortgage in 2017, adding $2 million for future capital projects at an interest rate of just 3.75 percent. That infusion means that assessments are likely a thing of the past.
The board plans to replace the second roof and install a playground next year – with money from the new mortgage and no assessment. On the recommendation of its green committee, the board has already switched to energy-efficient lights and fixtures in the common areas and has joined the city’s curbside organics recycling program. They’ll add fabric recycling next year.
Marshall Kanter has managed the property for Garthchester Realty since 1995, and after more than 30 years in the business he’s confident that this board’s holistic approach sets it apart. “I think they’re an unusual board in that they don’t micro-manage, yet they know everything that’s going on,” he says. “I admire that group.”
Adds Brian Scally, Garthchester’s vice president, “They’re an incredibly hands-on and dedicated group of people. They’re concerned about costs, and they do everything to analyze costs because they know everybody has to pay the bills. They’re a smart group of people who care about the future.”
Dowling explains the motivation behind the board’s holistic approach this way: “We want to make it a lovely place to live, and we also want to make it attractive to future buyers.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ROOFING CONTRACTOR: Structural Preservation Systems. GAS LINE: Dual Fuel Corp. HALLWAY RENOVATION: Sygrove Associates Design Group. MANAGEMENT: Garthchester Realty.
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