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Before Joining the Amenities Race, Study the Track

Stephen Varone and Peter Varsalona in Building Operations on October 31, 2017

New York City

Feaesibility Study
Oct. 31, 2017

Wine cellars, golf simulators, IMAX theaters – the amenities race in New York City co-ops and condos seems to grow more outlandish by the day. But it’s possible for co-op and condo boards to be competitive by adding or improving far less spectacular amenities. Even modest additions or improvements can enhance the quality of life for residents, increase the value and salability of units, and sometimes even generate income – such as monthly fees for gyms or storage lockers or bike racks

While space is usually at a premium, unused or underutilized areas can sometimes be found in oversized laundry rooms and staff spaces, unfinished basement areas, or inefficiently designed storage rooms. Many owners switch from oil to gas and suddenly find themselves with a freed-up room that once housed an oil storage tank. 

With some creative thinking and careful planning, these spaces can be converted into functional and attractive offerings. However, effectively re-purposing space can be a challenge. To make it less daunting, the first step a board should take before starting any major construction project is to hire an engineer or architect to conduct an evaluation and analysis of the property, known as a feasibility study.

When done properly, these studies identify potential concerns, assess costs, and predict how a project will affect not only the designated space but also the building as a whole. Once all significant factors are considered, the board decides whether the go forward with the project. 

If it does, the engineering/architecture firm conducting the study should stage an introductory planning session with the board to discuss goals regarding the scope of the proposed alterations, as well as budget restrictions, project concerns, and desired options. The board will also provide any relevant plans and drawings of existing conditions. 

Next, the engineer/architect will conduct visual observations of the existing and adjacent space configuration and conditions and take photos and measurements. Localized investigative probes may be recommended as part of the study, to supplement visual observations and better determine underlying conditions and construction. 

Reviewing city regulations is another critical step. While the field evaluation may determine that the project is physically feasible, a project can be stopped dead if it does not comply with all applicable codes

After completing their research, your professionals will establish a preliminary report on scope of work, and they will determine the project’s viability. The report will discuss several conversion options; establish preliminary budget projections for each option; provide design layouts; and set up a general timeline of the design and development process. 

The feasibility study should contain sufficient detail and a planning framework to carry on to the next phase in the project. If properly prepared, this study can be a worthwhile investment that helps build confidence in the project, avoids big surprises once work begins, and saves money in the long run.

Stephen Varone, an architect, and Peter Varsalona, an engineer, are principals at RAND Engineering & Architecture.

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