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A Low-Tech Solution to a High-Level Problem

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on December 20, 2017

Financial District, Manhattan

Pigeon Spikes

Worker on ropes installs pigeon spikes at 102 Fulton Street (image courtesy Buchbinder & Warren)

Dec. 20, 2017

This week our regular “Bricks & Bucks” feature will be re-christened “Sticks & Bucks.” Why? Because even the prettiest buildings can have ugly little problems that require boards and their professionals to come up with innovative solutions. And sometimes those solutions involve the lowly pigeon spike

Take the cast-iron gem at 102 Fulton Street in downtown Manhattan, a 14-unit, nine-story condo that was built in the late 19th century and had a seemingly insoluble problem. The Italian Renaissance-revival style building has a sloping, three-foot-wide metal ledge 100 feet above street level. After snowstorms, ice builds up on the ledge. When the ice melts, large chunks have been known to come loose and fall to the street – an accident and insurance liability waiting to happen. 

“Those ice chunks could be deadly,” says the condo’s property manager, Eric Ehrenhaus, senior property manager at Buchbinder & Warren. “Eight or maybe 10 years ago a chunk of ice smashed the roof of a car. It’s scary stuff. We wanted to fix it because it’s hazardous.” 

“It was a challenge for the building,” adds board president Roland Conybeare. “The problem is also because it’s a landmark, we cannot make any changes to the facade [without approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission].” 

The board consulted with a number of architects and engineers. Most recommended installing heaters in the ledge to avoid any ice built-up. That would have been an expensive fix since it would require scaffolding and a sidewalk shed – with no guarantee of success. 

“And what happens if there’s a problem?” asks Conybeare. “How is the electrician going to fix it?  The electrician is not going to climb up there without a scaffold. It would’ve been another scaffold and at least another $50,000. And then can he even fix it? Or will he tell us you will have to put in a new system?  It seems like a problem where you could spend a lot of money for a very doubtful result.” 

It was time to for the board and management to come up with an affordable, low-tech solution. Maybe install triangles along the edge of the ledge to hold the ice until it melts? Maybe install chicken wire? 

When the New Jersey-based company Structural Preservation Systems inspected the facade of the building for mandated Local Law 11 maintenance, they worked without scaffolding, instead using low-cost rope access, similar to systems used by rock climbers. Board and management knew they had to seize this opportunity to solve the problem. They came up with a creative and ingenious solution: pigeon spikes! The spikes could hold the ice in place until it melted and dripped harmlessly to the street. 

“I threw the idea at Structural,” says Ehrenhaus. “They agreed to do it, and we purchased the spikes and the glue for just $500. They did a very professional job installing the spikes, and now it’s wait-and-see. Hopefully it will work. And the bill from Structural did not increase by much either. It was about $9,000 for the facade inspection and spike installation. I personally am very confident that this will work.” 

Conybeare is confident, too. Worst-case scenario, the pigeon spikes might not hold the melting ice in place, and the board and management will have to find another solution. Maybe then it’s back to chicken wire. But at the very least, pedestrians on the street below don’t have to worry about getting hit by pigeon droppings. 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – MANAGEMENT: Buchbinder & Warren. CONTRACTOR: Structural Preservation Systems.

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