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Proactive Co-op Board Makes a Preemptive Strike

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on August 29, 2018

Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

Preemptive Strike

Balcony curbs were vulnerable to deterioration (image courtesy RAND Engineering & Architecture).

Aug. 29, 2018

When management and the board noticed some deterioration on the balconies of their high-rise co-op at 75 Henry Street in Brooklyn, they decided to investigate. Having worked with RAND Engineering & Architecture in the past, the board invited them back to take a closer look. What had appeared to be some harmless cracks morphed into a major job. 

“A lot of the time, we’re doing work because the city forces us to do it in connection with Local Law 11,” says project manager Brett Rieger from RAND, referring to the city law that requires facade inspections and repairs every five years for buildings over six stories tall. (The law has been renamed the Facade Inspection & Safety Program, or FISP.) But 75 Henry Street’s next five-year cycle had not yet come around. “In this case,” Rieger says, “the board and management were proactive.” 

The 35-story building has two lines of balconies on the east and west sides, one line on the north side. The balconies on the north side were in slightly better shape because they’re more protected from the elements. Still, 35 stories times five balconies per story equals a lot of work. 

“It’s not that the situation was dangerous,” says property manager David Grillo of Gumley Haft Real Estate. “But we wanted to ensure that the balconies were not compromised in any way. As it turned out, it would have become a Local Law 11 problem.” 

The building has concrete balconies with steel reinforcements dating back to 1968, when it was built. “First we did a visual inspection,” says Rieger. “With binoculars we could see some cracks and peeling paint. Once we got up there, we hammer-sounded every curb [outside edge] on every balcony. That’s when the project grew substantially larger.” 

Concrete curbs, which provide drainage, are the part of the balcony most vulnerable to deterioration, and numerous sections had to be removed and replaced. “We found that the steel reinforcement was very close to the surface,” says Rieger. “That’s usually the cause why the concrete cracks and spalls away. We had to fully remove the concrete from the steel, and on many balconies we had to hammer back the existing steel or add new steel.” 

The crew had to cast numerous new curbs, which required building forms to pour concrete.  The curbs had some detailing that had to be matched. The undersides of damaged balconies were patched from below. 

“About 85 percent of the balconies were in need of such repairs,” says Grillo. “It turned into a major project that took six months to complete.” 

Despite the scope of the project, the work went smoothly without major surprises. “The one surprise we found was in the aluminum railings,” says Rieger. “The railings are embedded in the concrete and water was finding its way inside the railings and, from there, into the concrete. It had nowhere else to go. When the water froze, it also expanded – and split the posts open. We had to drill holes in the bottom of these aluminum posts to allow the water to drain.” 

Every surface of every concrete balcony is now covered with BASF protective coating. Even though the manufacturer of the coating gives only a five-year warranty, Rieger doesn’t expect these balconies to need major repairs for another 15 to 20 years. 

“Thankfully we have a very healthy reserve fund and were able finance the project,” says Grillo. “RAND brought the job in slightly under $500,000.” 

For Rieger, the job was a break from working for boards that do exterior work only when they absolutely have to – and place cosmetic touches above important structural repairs. “Most buildings see monetary value in upgrading their lobby or elevators,” he says, “but this board understood the value of an exterior repair. They were a very hands-on board and management company, and a pleasure to work with.” 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ENGINEER: RAND Engineering & Architecture. MANAGEMENT: Gumley Haft Real Estate. CONTRACTOR: AM&G Waterproofing.

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