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The Windsor Tower Co-op Board Can’t Afford to Be Cheap

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on August 1, 2018

Midtown East, Manhattan

Tudor City

A terra-cotta gargoyle guarding Windsor Tower in Tudor City (photo courtesy Bertolini Architectural Works).

Aug. 1, 2018

When the latest cycle of Local Law 11 facade inspections approached, the co-op board at Windsor Tower in Tudor City, like all boards, was faced with an array of options: do as little as possible as cheaply as possible; go halfway; or do as much work as possible to minimize the sting when the next cycle rolls around. 

The seven-member board went for Plan C – not only doing all the prosaic brick-pointing work on the 26-story, 1920s-vintage building, but also replacing all 32 decorative terra-cotta spires and several pinnacles with pre-cast concrete replicas, then going the extra mile and replicating three of the massive terra-cotta gargoyles

The spires, pinnacles, and gargoyles added about $1.7 million to the $3.6 million job. The work is being phased in over three years, and when it’s complete, the landmarked building’s decorative flourishes will be solid for years to come. 

“Every Local Law 11 cycle, we do as much as possible,” says Jim Taylor, an architect who moved into the building 1992 and has served on the board since 2006. “Previous boards had a philosophy of patching, spending as little as possible. For many years, boards were against spending money because it seemed the least painful for shareholders.” 

Eric Vonderhyde is a principal at Bertolini Architectural Works, which has been the architect for Windsor Tower and three other Tudor City buildings since the early 1990s. Vonderhyde understands the pressures boards face. “Every board has a limit on what they can afford,” he says. “Windsor Tower has a very progressive board, and if something is right for the building, they never say no. Their decision to replicate all 32 terra-cotta spires is a perfect example.” 

Of course boards can’t – or shouldn’t – spend money they don’t have. This board was able to choose Plan C because they’d recently refinanced the underlying mortgage, cutting interest payments and boosting cash on hand. There’s also a 1 percent flip tax that’s fed into the capital projects budget. There was a small assessment for a hallway renovation, and annual hikes to monthly maintenance have been minimal. 

But capital projects require more than money. They also require oversight if they’re going to be successful, and that’s where Taylor’s professional experience comes into play. “He’s the most knowledgeable person on the board about the architectural components,” says Vonderhyde. “He helps interpret that for his fellow board members.” 

Taylor also makes a point of staying on top of how the work is progressing. “I go to weekly meetings with the architect, the contractor, and our super, Bert Hernandez,” Taylor says. “Since I have a little understanding of the process, I put my board hat on. For instance, I think we should try to get the sidewalk shed on the northwest corner of the building down first because it’s where people enter the property, and they don’t want to see an ugly shed up there. It also affects apartment sales.” 

Hernandez, who commands a staff of 25, attends monthly board meetings to give updates and answer questions. “We run down the punch list,” he says, “going over what’s on schedule, what’s behind schedule, what surprises we found. One resident didn’t understand why he couldn’t use his terrace. We had to tell him the spires needed work we hadn’t anticipated. Each piece has to be custom-made, and it can take a couple of weeks. You have to keep people abreast of what’s going on.” 

The casting of those concrete spires and pinnacles points to the importance of choosing the right contractors. There are only two companies in the country that still do terra-cotta work, so switching to pre-cast concrete will reduce delays – especially since the job’s contractor, Brooklyn-based Upgrade Contracting, is able to cast the pieces in-house. That cuts down on waiting time. And time, after all, is money. 

“The people we hired are good people,” Taylor says. “The whole process has gone fairly smoothly for such a complex job.” 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ARCHITECT: Bertolini Architectural Works. CONTRACTOR: Upgrade Contracting. PROPERTY MANAGEMENT: Tudor Realty Services.

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