in Building Operations on August 16, 2019
Habitat spoke recently with Ethelind Coblin, principal at Ethelind Coblin Architect.
As an architect, what do you think is one of the most important things a co-op or condo board ever undertakes?
I think it's important for a board to actually look into their whole building. And that involves creating a master plan that addresses all of the building’s systems, from the outer walls to the structural systems and mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. It also involves what the board’s goals are, which could include a hallway renovation project, creating a fitness center or more storage. So it's an overall look at both the physical plant and the goals of the board.
What are some of the specifics a master plan would address?
We start by looking into the certificate of occupancy to be sure that the current uses are legitimate. In the cellar the building may have a fitness center that isn't listed on the certificate of occupancy, so that would require an amendment to the certificate. If the board wants to put a garden on the roof, that again would kick off an amended C of O. These are amenities boards are looking at all the time, so that's where we would start.
We also like to have a structural engineer take an overall look at the building. If you’re trying to create a roof garden, the structural engineer needs to vet the structure to be sure it was designed to accept the load.
It's almost like giving the building a physical, isn't it?
Yes, it is. And then you have to have your mechanical-electrical-plumbing engineer take a look at the operations. We have a lot of pre-war buildings that have problems with electrical distribution. There may be plenty of power coming into the building, but the way it's distributed is often not up to code. So that's usually a big one for the master plan.
Does the master plan help boards set priorities?
Yes. Once we create a list of the issues with different systems, we define the “must’’ things. The facade would be a must; a structural problem or an electrical distribution violation would be a must. If there is a problem complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act, that would rise to the top.
The things the board wants to do are going to follow below that. Maybe board members really want a fitness center because they know it’s going to drive sales and they want more young people moving into the building. Or maybe they want to do a hallway project because the hallways are dingy and dark. Those are the “want” things, and it really depends on how important the board feels these projects will be.
Doesn’t the building's budget drive some of this?
The budget really does. Most boards set aside money every year to build up their reserve fund. Many buildings have flip taxes, which they pump back into the reserve. So they build up their reserve until they can do one of these “want” projects. Otherwise, they would have to convince the shareholders to buy into the project and increase their monthly maintenance with an assessment. That's the only other way they can afford these kinds of projects.
Will the master plan decide which projects come first?
That is part of the master plan. It will define which projects are the most important, and it will number them. And then the board can actually start to work down the list. Now the board has a plan it can convey to shareholders or unit-owners and leave as a road map for future boards.
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