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Your Super Can Make or Break a Capital Project

Bill Morris in Building Operations on July 31, 2017

Murray Hill, Manhattan

Supers and Contractors
July 31, 2017

The most under-appreciated player in the world of New York City co-ops and condos might well be the resident manager, or super. He – or she – does countless little things that no one sees or appreciates; but without them, most buildings would stop functioning smoothly, or would not function at all. 

Garreth O’Connor, the resident manager at the 180-unit Penny Lane co-op in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, has an illustration of this truism. When he took the job in 2008, he discovered that the vents in the laundry room were packed with eight feet of lint – a fire waiting to happen. After an arduous cleaning of the clogged vents, O’Connor said, “Nobody ever stops and says, ‘There wasn’t a fire in the laundry room today!’ The unseen stuff a super does every day prevents catastrophes without people even knowing it.”

It’s not just board members, residents and property managers who depend on the unseen things supers do. Talk to a guy like Henry Gifford, the mechanical systems designer in the architectural office of Chris Benedict. Gifford designs and oversees big jobs, such as salvaging a basement boiler ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in the East Village, then installing a new storm-proof boiler on the tenement building’s roof. More recently, he completed a heat-balancing project in an early-20th-century co-op on upper Broadway, where some apartments were overheated, others were frigid, and the pipes clanged mercilessly. Supers played major roles in both capital projects.

“Supers can be a big help or a big hindrance,” Gifford says. “The most important thing I can get from a super is an honest report on the history of the heating system. There are things only the super can tell me – about what happened yesterday and what happened five years ago. He can tell me which apartments are cold and which ones are hot.”

Supers can offer something beyond institutional memory. “And then there’s access,” Gifford says. “On the Broadway job we had to get access to 88 apartments. The super can make or break a job like that. If he’s friendly with people, they’ll give him their key, and we’ll get access. And he has to be friendly with us.”

As Garreth O’Connor knows so well, supers do a lot of work that no one notices or appreciates. But one thing boards can’t afford to ignore is that a good working relationship between the super and the contractor(s) is crucial on all capital projects. The reason, as Henry Gifford knows from experience, is that a super can make or break a job.

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