Marianne Schaefer in Building Operations on January 7, 2020
This is not a Hollywood thriller about seven days in May. This is the astounding true story of a 10-day drama at a 47-unit co-op in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, sparked by a gas leak, which, if not successfully addressed, would have changed the life of every shareholder in the co-op.
“Behind all our efforts was the fear that the gas could be shut down for several months,” says Thomas Sussewell, chief operating officer of the co-op’s management company, Goldin Management. “That’s what usually happens, especially since this is a prewar building from 1924.”
Day 1: National Grid installs a new state-of-the-art gas meter in the co-op. During installation, the gas is shut off.
Day 2: An inspector from National Grid performs the mandatory pressure test on gas lines before restoring service. “We failed the pressure test,” says Felipe Rodriguez, the super. “There was a one-inch elbow going to the domestic line where they found a leak. The gas remained shut down, and our residents had no hot water. [National Grid] told us we need a special certified plumber to fix the problem.”
Goldin Management’s go-to master plumbers didn’t have the special license for such jobs that has been required since January, the city’s response to recent lethal gas explosions. “To get a plumber and have them work on it very quickly was an exercise,” says Sussewell. “They had to jump us in front of the line.” ABR Plumbing & Heating shows up at 3 p.m. and fixes the leaking elbow.
Day 3: National Grid is unable to perform another pressure test because neighborhood streets are closed for a marathon on Eastern Parkway.
Day 4: It’s Sunday, and nobody is working – and residents are furious. “There are all these personal dramas playing out,” says Sussewell. “The board was very helpful dealing with the shareholders’ frustrations, which freed us up to deal with the gas lines.”
Day 5: The pipes fail the pressure test again. “It turned out that on 85 feet of pipes, all elbows connecting these pipes have to be changed,” says Albert Guglielmo, the property manager. “When you connect old pipes to new pipes, it’s like a chain reaction – it’s spreading like cancer. Now it’s a monster.” The plumbers work frantically into the night.
Day 6: The tension escalates. “We changed three-inch pipes and three-and-a-half-inch couplings,” says Rodriguez, the super. “That means now the Department of Buildings (DOB) will have to do their own inspections to make sure the pipes can hold the pressure.”
Day 7: The DOB promises to show up in about two weeks. Guglielmo says “No, no, no!” and starts calling DOB supervisors – without success.
Day 8: Alan Mass, the co-op’s board president, recommends getting in touch with Arna Lipkind, manager of constituent services for city council majority leader Laurie Cumbo. “And what do you know?” says Guglielmo. “The inspector from the DOB says he will come the very next day.”
Day 9: The building passes the DOB test in the afternoon. National Grid still has to come back for another pressure test after the DOB has confirmed that all is clear. The DOB inspector has his laptop with him, and he loads the result into the DOB main computer system. At 8 P.M., the plumber calls Guglielmo to tell him the inspection result is not in the DOB database.
Day 10: The plumber informs Guglielmo that the DOB test result is now showing up in the database. National Grid claims there are no inspectors in the field on the holiday weekend. Anticipating this problem, Guglielmo has the mobile phone number of an inspector, and he knows he’s working that day nearby in Queens. After numerous phone calls from Guglielmo, the inspector shows up at the co-op in the afternoon.
“The test took more than three hours,” says Rodriguez. “They do the pressure test, the nitrogen test, they make sure all the air is out of the line, that the boiler turns on, that the regulators and everything is working. Then they filled out some forms and turned on the gas.”
Ten tense days had come to an end – at a cost of about $22,000. Without the fast footwork of board, staff and management, it could have been so much worse.
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