New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Terracotta Transitions

Tom Soter in Bricks & Bucks

Morningside Heights

“Every five years, the city requires an inspection of buildings over six stories in height for safety,” explains Michael Larkin, senior structural engineer and a partner at RAND Engineering & Architecture. “Engineers have to determine if buildings need to be repaired so that people can safely walk on public sidewalks. We're currently in the eighth FISP cycle, and they had deficiencies noted in the seventh cycle.”
The project went out for bid and the work was begun in 2014. The board chose an engineering/architecture firm that was known for not simply repairing buildings but restoring them. “The board knew this was going to be costly, but they didn’t know how costly,” says the co-op’s manager, Maria Sanchez, a management executive at Buchbinder & Warren. And then the scope of the work increased. “The architect was finding more work to do than he had originally anticipated,” Sanchez says.
That’s when the board took an unusual step. In December of that year, it stopped the work. Although satisfied with the contractor, Total Structural Concepts, the board was having second thoughts about the hefty cost of the project. According to Sanchez, one board member served on the board of the Central Park Conservancy while another was a non-practicing architect, and both were familiar with architecture/engineering firms. They knew of RAND, she says, and asked the firm to offer a second opinion.
“We came in and did [an inspection],” recalls Larkin. “We said, ‘You know, we don't think the situation is as bad as it is being portrayed by them. You could cut back on the number of bricks replaced’ – because they really didn't want to have to spend any money that they didn't have to spend. The funds were not readily available to do the huge job that the other firm wanted, and I agreed that they could cut back on the number of replacements to lower the cost of the project, and still maintain stability for the next five years at which time the facade is re-assessed for the ninth cycle.”
Larkin admits that it is highly unusual for engineers to disagree so dramatically, noting: “I don't think it's typical. The opinion of the other firm was extremely conservative. They had a very strict process, and they had a very strict measure of what they felt warranted, or needed replacement. Our opinion was actually conservative in terms of which stones we called for replacement. But I just think that the other firm was extremely conservative – conservative on steroids, if you will. We felt we were being more reasonable, and we were being careful, and we were being thorough, but we weren't so over the top. We understood that you can have a small defect in a stone that doesn't mean it has to be replaced. We can live with some imperfection.”
Once RAND was on board, the job, which was finished earlier this year, moved smoothly with few surprises, costing $194,000 for the RAND-supervised portion. “It was just a little bit more of an involved replacement, compared to a stone that's just embedded into a building façade,” says Larkin. “Many of these stones are directly over openings, so how to stabilize them in place is a little more complicated than if they were just in the middle of a wall.”

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