Paula Chin in COVID-19 on September 24, 2020
Gustavo Rusconi didn’t want to waste any time. Shortly after the city announced that it was permitting co-ops and condos to reopen their gyms after the mandated pandemic shutdown – provided they passed a virtual inspection by the Department of Health (DOH) – Rusconi, director of management operations at Argo Realty, leapt into action.
After implementing safety measures and submitting the paperwork, Rusconi went through the inspection process at a Fifth Avenue building he manages, just days after the moratorium was lifted on Sept. 2. The co-op, he’s happy to report, passed muster without a hitch, and Argo has been informing boards at its other properties on how they can do the same.
“A lot of boards are apprehensive and feel that it’s going to be burdensome to comply with the regulations,” says Rusconi, who recently convened a virtual meeting with both existing clients and prospective ones to answer questions and allay fears. “We want them to know exactly what to expect – and that it’s all very doable.”
During the town-hall style Zoom meeting – which was also attended by Argo’s director of compliance and the Fifth Avenue co-op’s property manager – Rusconi went over the process from A to Z, starting with the online forms boards must submit, including an affirmation that they understand the New York State guidelines and will implement them, as well as a Reopening Safety Plan.
“We didn’t know how strict or lenient the inspections would be, so we just followed the guidelines as close as possible,” he says. “The building’s gym didn’t have an HVAC system, so we calculated the square footage and installed air-scrubbing machines and MERV 13 filters, which have the highest efficiency.”
The next step was filing a Gym and Fitness Facility Inspection Request and Attestation Form. “Within half an hour of submitting the attestation, we got a call from the DOH and set a date,” Rusconi says. “We were pleasantly surprised by their speed and efficiency.”
When the day came, the co-op’s property manager did the actual FaceTime walk-through with the DOH inspector. “The first thing he did was have us step outside the building to verify our address,” Rusconi says. “Then we had to show the pathway from the lobby and the service entry to the gym, along with the appropriate signage.”
The list of requirements inside the gym included posting a safety plan; arranging exercise machines and workout stations so that people can remain at least six feet apart; providing a supply of face coverings, soap and paper towels; and designating an area for pick-ups and deliveries.
State rules require gym operators to do daily COVID-19 screenings of the staff and the people working out. “We showed the inspector our health questionnaires that we have everyone fill out before they can use the gym, along with our reservation system to make sure we never exceed the maximum 33% occupancy,” Rusconi says. Though the gym can accommodate up to seven people, management decided to restrict usage to just one person or one family at a time, and it limited workouts to 45 minutes. “Then the gym is closed for 15 minutes so our staff can do a thorough cleaning,” Rusconi adds, “all of which we record on a log.”
The inspection took about 45 minutes, and it was “comprehensive and fair,” according to Rusconi. “We wanted to convey to our clients that overall, it was a good experience, and that if they fail the inspection, they can easily schedule another after the problems are fixed.”
Reopening gyms is not easy, but Rusconi believes it’s worth the trouble in these troubled times. “Our job is to keep boards and residents informed and clear up any confusion,” he adds. “After being cooped up in their apartments for so long, people need to get back to the gym for the stress relief – and to take a break from what’s going on.”
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