Paula Chin in Building Operations on September 19, 2017
The board of a 15-story, 75-unit Lenox Hill co-op was faced with a dilemma. Should they keep patching the post-war building’s leaky, white glazed-brick skin – or follow the advice of their engineer, Gene Ferrara, president of JMA Consultants, and strip away the white bricks and reskin the entire building.
“Our first reaction was that we wouldn’t be able to afford to reskin,” says Ed Adler, president of the co-op board. “As it was, our reserves were small and would cover only a fraction of the repairs that needed to be made.”
That was when Ferrara stepped in, solicited bids, and crunched the numbers. “I priced out a standard restoration project and a total reskin, and showed them that the added cost wasn’t nearly as much as they thought,” he says. “They originally had a price of $3.5 million for a basic facade, roof, and terrace triage job. I got a reskin price of $5 million, which was only a 40 percent increase. That’s a big bang for the buck.”
Adler and his four fellow board members quickly came around, realizing that doing piecemeal repairs would mean they would just be facing new problems down the line. “With a reskin, we’d be in much stronger position for the long haul,” he says. “Technologically, we’d have more advanced brick and better installation, so everything would hold up better. And it would certainly enhance the look of our building, which had become pretty tired. There were all sort of advantages.”
But there was also the matter of money. The cost of reskinning translated to about $100,000 per apartment, far too expensive for a building-wide assessment of the co-op’s mostly older, middle-income residents.
“Fortunately, we were underleveraged and had only a $2 million mortgage, which made it easy for us to get a bigger one,” says Adler. “We got a $7.5 million loan from National Cooperative Bank at just 5 percent, which allowed us to impose a modest maintenance increase of 13 percent, which was very palatable to our shareholders.”
With financing in hand, the board had several meetings with Ferrara, who took them through every step of the process, including potential contractors, insurance coverage, and which permits and approvals would be required.
“A lot of money had to be paid out, and it was key that board members had the maturity to consider all the costs, soft and hard,” Ferrara says. “They also had to go to the shareholders to explain the benefits and downsides, including how much disruption there will be and for how long.”
The board did just that, and more. “We presented residents with different brick samples and grout colors so we could get their input on the aesthetics,” says Adler, adding that the reskin came with a bonus. “There was a hodgepodge of air conditioners – some were longer, wider, squarer – and Gene said it would be a shame to put on a new facade without standardizing the sleeves. We told the residents we were going to do that – and that we would work with them to buy new units.”
Because of the reskinning, maintaining the structure will now be a breeze. “They’ll have to start to work on the caulking about 20 years from now and general pointing repairs in 40 years, and they won’t have to face another big job like this for at least 100 years,” says Ferrara, who has some words of advice for others who live in white-brick buildings. “If you’re doing major repair projects every five years and you haven’t asked questions about a total reskin, then you should. You’ll get longevity by thinking outside of the box.”
Adler agrees. “To this day, everybody is delighted with the results,” he says. “For the longest time, we were never a building you’d point to and say, ‘What a beautiful place.’ But now we are. Was reskinning worth the cost and hassle and angst? Absolutely. It was the smartest thing we ever did.”
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