Tom Soter in Bricks & Bucks on March 16, 2016
The date was February 15, 2016, and it was bitterly cold outside. Temperatures broke records – 2 degrees in Manhattan, with wind chills making it feel even lower – and a situation soon developed in the basement at the condo complex at 345 East 80th Street on First Avenue. The space, inside one of the retail stores that occupied the lower level of the building, had a crucial flaw: it was located next to an exterior wall, near a hatch door.
“The basement was a heated space, but it was right near a little hatchway that was exposed to the outside because of cold air,” explains Bradley Cohen, agent with The Lovett Group, the co-op’s manager.
Soon, the extreme cold caused a 40-year-old, six-inch sprinkler line, which was located in one of four commercial spaces, to freeze up. Water expands when it turns to ice. Eventually, the pipe burst.
By the time the superintendent and management were on the scene, “there was three feet of water – freezing cold water on a 15-degree day – pouring out into a lower level retail space,” says Cohen, who was on vacation that day. “We got the water shut off. Unfortunately, it took about 45 minutes to an hour to do that, and it's coming out like rapids.”
The retail spaces – which are below sidewalk level and are entered by walking down a ramp or a set of steps – include a small cat hospital, a dog daycare center, a printing store, and a bank. All ended up being affected by the water; in one store, flooding reached about three feet high. The cat hospital was hit the hardest, says Cohen, and would have to stay closed for two months while repairs were underway. (No cats were hurt, by the way.) In addition, the SBA turned up to offer advice to and answer questions from the store owners and managers.
Lovett agents “went down and protected the boiler room, shut off and protected the pumps and the electrical equipment,” reports Cohen. The residential section of the 32-story building “was not affected one iota except for a short period in which the water was shut off and diverted. Many people didn't even know anything was going on.”
The clean-up was relatively inexpensive, since the four stores in the basement area called their own adjusters or insurance companies, which in turn called private cleanup companies to come in, says Cohen.
Three of the retail stores still require repairs, but are operational. “The cat hospital needs major remedial work,” says Cohen, “and will not reopen before April or May.”
What lessons are to be learned from the Great Post-Valentine Day’s Flood? “You think of 20/20 hindsight, what you could have done,” says Cohen. “Should I have put a heater around that pipe? Should I have sealed up the exterior wall better? Should I have put heat tape on that? Who knows?
“You have to understand,” he continues, “that with the extreme temperatures we seem to be getting, both hot and cold, things like this are going to happen. These are things that we've never experienced before. You have to plan.” He adds that it’s like preparing for Hurricane Sandy, albeit on a smaller scale. “It’s the same thing with protecting against extreme cold or extreme heat for your mechanical equipment. You have to assume the worst.”
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