Bill Morris in Building Operations
The first challenge was to find the source of the gas leak. The co-op had replaced its corroded sidewalk vault in the summer of 2014, and closer inspection of the pipes under the sidewalk now revealed that salt water had dripped onto the main gas line coming in from the street, causing a small leak. A simple fix, right?
Wrong. "There had to be an entire building inspection, and that's when it became a nightmare," says Bill Albertini, a sculptor who is president of the co-op's five-member board. "Before the gas gets turned back on, all the gas lines have to be pressure tested. Though they were installed by the sponsor in1980, they failed. The sponsor probably didn't put enough money into the building. The joint dope" - plumber's slang for sealant - "was up to code, but it didn't last."
The co-op's plumber, Demar Plumbing, suggested that all risers and the branch lines into all 12 apartments should be replaced, at a cost of about $30,000. The board and its property manager, Robin Miller, of the Andrews Organization, balked, both at the cost and the potential disruption.
"The plumbers wanted us to rip everything out and do everything at once," Miller says. "We wanted to do it in a methodical way that didn't break the bank."
Adds Albertini: "The money was an issue. We're not poor, but we do watch every expense. So we decided to track down and test every joint in the system."
The building has two water heaters. Hot water was restored within weeks of the repair to the main gas line. Until the entire system could be checked, though, locks were placed on the lines that feed heat and cooking gas into apartments. It took months of painstaking work to discover about a dozen leaks. As that job neared completion, there was one final unpleasant surprise: in October, the plumber determined that the furnace's chimney, a 24-inch steel tube running up the back of the building, was so badly rusted that it would not pass inspection. Demar gave a bid of $72,500 for the job. Stunned, the board scrambled to get more bids, settling on a $22,000 bid from Aqel Sheet Metal, which completed the job in a month. The heat was back on shortly before Christmas, but cooking gas wasn't restored until early this year.
The co-op's maintenance goes up by 6 percent every year, and the board levied a three-month assessment totaling $40,000 to cover the cost of the gas leak. "It could have been much more," Albertini says. "You can't mess around with gas. We tried to save money, but we didn't do anything crazy. The city's eyes are on everyone, and rightly so."
Now that the building's heat and hot water have been restored, the board is turning its attention to looming challenges, including replacing a roof, repointing the facade, and painting the fire escapes.
"This took the wind out of our sails," says Albertini, adding that he wishes the DOB and Con Ed offered a "standardized playbook" to guide boards through this kind of crisis. "It's been painful, but we have saved a fair amount of money, and we avoided a lot of disruption to people's lives."
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