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A Co-op's Basement Goes From Mess to Amenity

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on March 14, 2018

Rego Park, Queens

Mouse House

From mess to amenity: the storage room in the Rego Park co-op.

March 14, 2018

The pictures don’t lie. The storage room beneath the six-story co-op in Rego Park, Queens, used to be a jumbled mess. Boxes, coolers, suitcases and garbage bags crammed with stuff – to use a gentle word – filled the shelves and spilled onto the floor. Some of it had been abandoned by shareholders who’d sold their apartments and moved out. The 660-square-foot room may have been a mess, but it was also an amenity waiting to happen. 

When the city issued a violation several years ago, the seven-member co-op board brought in a dumpster, which was soon brimming with unwanted stuff. The board investigated an upgrade of the storage room, but decided against spending the money. 

“It was a constant concern of the board’s,” says president Jeff Olshanetsky, who moved into the 60-unit postwar building in 1994 and joined the board a dozen years ago. “Last year we got a mice infestation, and an exterminator came out and told us the source was the storage room.” 

So the board revisited its earlier research on storage room upgrades and spoke to several contractors before settling on Queens-based Giant Industrial Installations, which installs WireCrafters storage lockers and bike storage systems. “They were by far the most attractive solution – the product, the price, their experience,” Olshanetsky says. 

Giant Industrial’s field manager, Hugo Lau, visited the building and worked up a design that called for installing 60 wire storage lockers, one for each unit, that are 3 feet wide, 3 feet tall, and 4 feet deep. The co-op board pushed back on the price. “The board liked the proposal but thought it was a bit pricey,” says Jerry Desir, sales manager at Giant Industrial. “Most buildings are strapped financially, so we gave them a discount – not by cutting corners, but by taking away from our profit margin. That way we keep our staff busy. It’s not all about profit, it’s about keeping the staff working.” 

Satisfied with the $25,000 price tag, the board voted unanimously to move forward and pay for the project out of the reserve fund rather than imposing an assessment. Thanks to tightening on expenses coupled with steady revenue from a flip tax, the laundry room and monthly maintenance (the co-op is 100 percent owner-occupied), the reserve fund had grown to about $200,000. 

Now came to fun part. The exterminator got rid of the mice while the board brought in another dumpster and gave shareholders a deadline on removing their stuff from the storage room. (What wasn’t thrown out could be placed in a temporary storage room.) The old shelving was removed, the ceiling and walls and floor were painted. Giant Industrial said the installation of the new lockers would start on March 9 and take three to four days. 

“They did it in a day,” Olshanetsky says. “Our super was very happy because they didn’t need much assistance.” 

Each unit is assigned one locker at no charge, and shareholders are now moving their possessions in. Meanwhile, the board has turned its attention to the next challenge: upgrading the bike storage room. “As of now, we’re considering charging a small fee, $60 a year, because bike storage is privilege, not a necessity like our garage,” Olshanetsky says. “If it’s not free, people might think twice if they need it.” 

Some amenities generate revenue while others enhance the quality of life and the value of apartments. The new storage room in Rego Park is happily in the latter camp. “It’s not going to be a money-maker,” Olshanetsky says. “We want to live in a nice clean environment, and the old storage room was unsanitary. In the mind of the board, we’re getting rid of violations and fire hazards, and we’re offering cleanliness and order.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – MANAGEMENT: Self-managed. INSTALLER: Giant Industrial Installations. MANUFACTURER: WireCrafters.

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