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Remodeling Lobbies Doesn’t Have to Be Hell on Earth

Tom Soter in Bricks & Bucks on August 9, 2017

Howard Beach, Queens

Queens co-op get job done on time and under budget.

One of the reborn lobbies at the Fairfield Arms co-op (photo courtesy of Art & Interiors)

Aug. 9, 2017

Sheila Shale is a big believer in teamwork. Shale, the board president at the Fairfield Arms, a two-building, 155-unit, six-story co-op in Howard Beach, Queens, says: “You can’t complete any major project without working together.”

Shale should know. Collaborating with numerous parties – including an in-house decorating committee, an outside designer, the property manager, and various contractors – she has spearheaded a major overhaul of the decades-old property. “It was built sometime in the 1960s,” says Shale, “and we knew the buildings needed a fresh look. I’ve lived there since 1992, and over the years we had painted and we had changed old-fashioned brown tiles in the hallways to carpeting. So we had tried to freshen it up, but we had never had the pizazz that it has now.”

The co-op refinanced its underlying mortgage nearly two years ago to raise funds for both exterior and interior capital projects. The former consisted of brick repointing, replacing and waterproofing, plus major balcony repairs; the latter consisted of remodeling both lobbies and front entrances, and all hallways. 

For the interior work, a volunteer decorating committee met with three designers. It was most impressed by Tina Tilzer, principal in Art & Interiors. Tilzer was hired and met with the committee on a regular basis, discussing the ways it wanted to go. Design proposals were presented to the nine-member board and the property manager, Aleke Radoncic, vice president of Orsid Realty.

A final design proposal was then presented to shareholders at the annual meeting. “Shareholders had a chance to ask questions about design, cost, construction process, and timeline,” says Radoncic. He estimates that 90 percent of the design committee’s ideas were adopted in the final design.

The board president has nothing but praise for designer. “Tina was very personable and easy to work with,” Shale says. “She’s someone who had the feel for what we were talking about. It wasn’t like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ She asked: ‘What is it that you want?’ She really listened to us. She was really wonderful for us, and she stayed in budget.” 

In fact, the job came in slightly under its $650,000 budget, according to Radoncic. From start to finish, the project took about a year and a half, and the dust and noise and organized chaos that go with such a job led to some complaints from shareholders. “People were not too happy about that,” admits Shale. “We tried to explain to the shareholders that they would be very pleased with the end project, just give us time and be patient. And they were.” 

From the property manager’s point of view, there were two keys to this project’s success. “It took a well balanced team to do this project, and we had that,” Radoncic says. “And when you have a board that allows the professionals to do their jobs under proper supervision, major capital improvements like this can be done on time and on budget.”

Shale’s advice to other co-ops embarking on a major construction job like the one at Fairfield Arms? “You must remember that it’s a team approach,” she says, echoing the manager. “Everyone knew it wasn’t about their personal tastes. It was, ‘What’s good for everyone?’” 


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