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Big Harlem Co-op Solves Big Garbage Headache

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on February 28, 2018

Harlem, Manhattan

Garbage Cleanup

The new garbage collection site at Morningside Gardens (image via CTA Architects).

Feb. 28, 2018

It was nasty – there’s no other word for it. The garbage collection area for the 980 apartments in the Morningside Gardens co-op in Harlem was a large open lot. Garbage bags were piled inside a chain-link fence, on a deteriorating asphalt surface that drained poorly. 

“This caused a significant rat problem,” says Lawrence D’Addona, former treasurer and former president of the co-op board. “At the beginning of my term we purchased large metal storage containers for the garbage until pick up, which improved the rat situation. However, the aesthetics of the area, which is adjacent to one our [six] buildings, was still very poor.” 

The board hired CTA Architects to oversee $10 million worth of  facade repairs, as well as an upgrade to the unsightly garbage collection lot. “We had two main goals for the refuse area,” says Douglas Cutsogeorge, a principal of CTA. “One was to make the refuse area cleaner, to reduce vermin, puddles and garbage blowing around.  Second, it had to be aesthetically pleasing from the street and also for the residents above who could look upon the refuse area.” 

Morningside Gardens was a pioneer in the city’s expanding organic waste collection program, which added to the complexity of the problem. “The compost storage was in the same area as garbage collection,” says D’Addona. “This new compost collection further increased the need to efficiently design this section of our property.” Another consideration was making it possible for trucks to make pickups without blocking traffic. 

Cutsogeorge admits that this was an odd commission for his firm. “We were dealing with a department of the city we were not used to – the Department of Sanitation," he says. "They have their own ways and different rules you have to follow.” 

First, the asphalt was stripped and concrete slabs were poured that incorporated electrical conduits and a drainage system. The new electrical system provides power for a ventilation system in the i and will be able to accommodate garbage compactors if the co-op decides to install them. Next came three large, enclosed vermin-resistant steel containers for household garbage. There are also composting bins and containers for pre-sorted recyclables. “We’re also planning to add electronic recycling,” says D’Addona. 

“As for the aesthetics,” says Cutsogeorge, “we’ve installed an attractive fencing system and many large planters. Most importantly two pergolas were mounted. It’s just a simple cable system, but over time they will have ivy growing over them. This is not just for aesthetics, even though it does have a sculptural element. Most importantly, they will block the sunlight, and that will reduce the smell because the refuse area will be in the shade and not in direct sunlight. It will also block the view of the garbage area from above.” 

CTA Architects brought the job in at $1.075 million, only $15,000 over budget, despite several change orders. D’Addona says that the money for the project came from the reserve fund.

“Ultimately the design project was made easier because of the intense involvement of the board,” says Cutsogeorge. According to D’Addona, the board and shareholders are happy with the result. “It’s visually pleasing, functional, and efficient,” he says. The opposite of nasty. 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – DESIGN: CTA Architects. MANAGEMENT: FirstService Residential. CONTRACTOR: DJM NYC. ENGINEER: Galli Engineering. LIGHTING: Domingo Gonzalez Associates. HORTICULTURALIST: Richie Cabo.

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