Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on March 7, 2018
Michael Sullivan, director of operations for the real estate firm Edward J. Minskoff Equities, kept running up against the city’s maddeningly complex rules on maintaining water cooling towers, those rooftop behemoths that feed central air-conditioning and refrigeration systems. (Not to be confused with the city’s iconic drinking-water towers.)
“Managing our cooling tower compliance was extremely frustrating,” Sullivan says. “Not only did we have thousands of dollars in violations and legal fees, we felt we were at a loss how to mitigate future process-related fines.”
Sullivan’s frustration stems from Local Law 77, the city’s response to a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2015 in the Bronx that was caused by bacteria that had formed in an improperly maintained water cooling tower. So the city began requiring buildings with water cooling towers, including co-ops and condos, to file a Maintenance Program and Plan (MPP) and to follow elaborate procedures, including thrice-weekly monitoring of water, quarterly tower inspections, and prompt notification of the health department when Legionella bacteria levels rise. Twice a year all towers must be disinfected by a licensed technician. Every year, a credentialed inspector must confirm that the MPP for every cooling tower has been followed and all requirements have been met.
To comply with these stringent rules, many co-op and condo boards contract with water-treatment vendors and other specialists. But as Sullivan learned, it’s still not easy to avoid violations and fines. He turned to a new company called Vitralogy, which has developed software that schedules all maintenance on water cooling towers, records collected data, alerts staff (both supers and external vendors) when corrective action is needed, and compiles all information into reports required by Local Law 77.
Philip DAmelia, CEO and founder of Vitralogy, is an engineer with extensive software experience. He saw the need for compliance software after being involved in a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak on Long Island in 2017. “It was all a nightmare,” DAmelia recalls. “When I talked to building managers, nobody knew what to do and why they were still getting violations, even though they had hired an environmental consultant. They didn’t even know where the breakdown was. The super blamed the water-treater, the water-treater said he never got the call. It sounded like the perfect scenario for the development of a comprehensive software. That’s when we founded Vitralogy.”
Complying with the city’s regulations, among the strictest in the country, is no mean feat. “It’s a lot of work,” says Lea Keating, Vitralogy’s director of marketing. “Many people are involved and everything has do be documented. As soon as the [Vitralogy] program realizes that numbers are out of range, alerts will go out. We also oversee the software on our side. If anybody in the process is not doing exactly what they are supposed to, we will know about it and get on the phone. We collect all the data and submit the reports to the city. Should there be an inspection, everything will be available.”
Sullivan, for one, is pleased with the results. “We’ve been on the Vitralogy platform for close to a year now and just had our sixth consecutive inspection with zero violations,” he says. “The Vitralogy team has been especially helpful in assisting with vendor management and ensuring jobs are performed on time. Our engineers appreciate not having to think about what to do next. Vitralogy made fulfilling regulatory needs a snap.”
The cost for the service and the software varies, depending on the size of the building and the number of water cooling towers. But DAmelia estimates about $6,000 annually for a multi-family residential building. The failure to comply with Local Law 77 can result in fines up to $25,000 or a year in prison. So far, about 200 building managers in the city have done the math and, like Sullivan, started using Vitralogy software.
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