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Taking Charge 1
Pat Whaley was a schoolteacher for 35 years but she learned a few lessons in her position as board president at Villas on the Bay, a 42-unit condominium in East Moriches, New York. Built in the early 1980s on Long Island’s south shore, not far from the tony hamlet of Southampton, the four-building condo was, she says, “falling apart. We are on a beautiful piece of property overlooking a beautiful coast, and our buildings were awful. They were really in deplorable shape. I was a teacher, but the situation we were in really taught me a lot.” The board, she notes, had been having difficulty moving ahead with projects and had its priorities wrong.
It’s a lesson that served her in good stead as she has dealt with an aging set of buildings and increasing complaints from the unit-owners about whether the board was going to take action. She knew how they felt; fixing the problems was the main reason she had run for the board. “This is a project that’s been discussed back and forth by this board and other boards probably for the last seven years or so,” she notes. “The buildings were starting to fall down,” she adds. “We are right on the water with full frontal exposure, so it had been at least 30 years, and it was a continual maintenance and repair project; we needed lots and lots of work.”
Once on the board, she was frustrated by the inaction. One problem was that the Villas on the Bay manager – a solo practitioner – “had limited knowledge and resources to handle any kind of project of this magnitude,” Whaley says.
With dissident voices increasing among the residents, she assumed the president’s seat, and one of her first actions was to hire Fairfield Property Services in January of 2012. “We needed a large management company that had experience doing a project of this size,” she recalls.
Soon the work kicked into high gear. “What made it work well was that I have been doing this for 48 years, and I have done many, many projects very similar to this,” explains Harry Seid, the manager assigned to the condo. “So it was basically just second nature to us.”
The board obtained a $1.75 million line of credit from its lender and hired an engineer, Jordan P. Ruzz & Associates, and a contractor, Brightwaters Building Company. (“We had a little bit of savings, and that will be earmarked for some additional projects that the community is contemplating doing in the spring also,” says Seid. “But as far as the scope of the work and the original amount that the loan was structured for, that came in within or a little bit below budget.”)
That work included replacing all of the existing cedar siding on the property and around the buildings, and dealing with the extensive water damage underneath. It also included replacing the stairs, the lighting fixtures, all of the indicating signs, and the swimming pool; repairing the decking area around the pool, as well as adding a heating system to it; and replacing all of the residents’ garage doors. Fencing is being done now, and the last piece of the project will be additional landscaping, which will be addressed in the spring.
Communication with the unit-owners was crucial. “We had some dissension,” says Whaley, “but in the end I have not heard from those people. I have lived here 14 years. I know everybody by name. I have a fairly good relationship with most of them, so once we had the plan in place and we knew the roadmap that we were going to follow, we let the homeowners know. In the end, people have been very, very happy. Things have settled down.”
Rita Cody is not very descriptive when she is asked to explain what convinced her to buy a unit at Crest Manor, a seven-story, 160-unit co-op at 377 North Broadway, in 1990, but she knows why she joined the board. “I got on 10 years ago. They were begging for people. There was nobody going on it, so another person and I volunteered. I don’t know what I expected. They needed to make some decisions, and they needed a quorum; we had a managing agent who needed to be told everything to do; now we have a managing agent who knows what to do.”
Since joining the board 10 years ago, Cody, a vice president on the seven-person board (and serving as acting president while the president is away), has been involved in improving communication among the residents, a major part of the building’s focus. “We like to make sure that everybody in the building is aware. We put [information] under their doors. We don’t want any surprises.”
Such communication is crucial these days at Crest Manor. The building is just beginning the turmoil and disruption of major garage renovation. But it is also undertaking the replacement of all the balconies and a complete refurbishment of the swimming pool.
The 35-year-old property has been dealing with crumbling infrastructure for years, according to longtime managing agent Darek Chrzanowski of Stillman Management, who says that the time for stopgap repairs had passed. The building had to get serious about the conditions.
“We knew the cars on the bottom level [of the two-level garage] were getting messed up every time it rained,” observes Cody. “The top level is metal underneath it, and it was rusting, so when it rained, the rust would get on the cars. We did repairs before that, but nothing this expensive, and it just wasn’t holding. They’re going to put a new coating on the garage that will last 10 years. It’s something you have to keep up. It’s like a roof warranty.”
Management was firm in this situation. “It’s been 20 years since the last time they’ve done anything,” Chrzanowski notes. “The garage was just very unsafe at this point, and it needed to be done.”
“The management company got an engineer, and they came in and started looking at the terraces, too; some of the cement was falling off,” admits Cody. As it turned out, “the terraces [were] in worse shape than the garage, so we said, ‘Oh boy, this is stuff you can’t put off.’ We [had] already [done] our roof, and now we had to clean up the fire escapes, get the rust off of them, and paint them up again.”
The board considered more spot repairs, but Chrzanowski says, “You’re still talking about a full replacement down the road anyway. I said, ‘Do it now. Get it over with. It’s a big project.’”
Actually, it’s three projects in one: the terraces, the garage, and the pool. Budgeted for $2.5 million, the work is being funded by a refinancing of the co-op’s underlying mortgage.
“We pushed them to do all three projects at the same time,” adds Chrzanowski, “We set up a very high goal for ourselves, so we want to be done with the project sometime in October or November 2015. It’s going to be a lot of disruption, a lot of coordination, a lot of moving people in and out of the parking lot.”
One major change: the building’s residents will be using the parking lots of nearby churches to house their cars. Two other headaches: to prep for the upcoming work, the pool was closed this past summer (a move that no one wants to repeat), and most of the residents, says the managing agent, lost their terraces as the structures were taken down this fall. They will be replaced by new ones in the spring.
One factor that made tackling all three projects at once palatable to the board was that one contractor, Xinos Construction, would handle them all. “This made it much less complex,” says Chrzanowski. Nonetheless, it will still be a juggling act of sorts, with 15 to 20 workers swarming over the property, working in three areas at once.
Helping to coordinate the projects, which began in mid-November, is veteran superintendent Miguel Mercado (20 years on the job), his staff (up to 15 years), and Chrzanowski himself. The agent has been coordinating “multiple jobs like this” since 1978. (Stillman will probably also provide a construction manager to help out.) “Regardless, it is going to be a headache,” he admits. “It’s going to be a real challenge.”
Cody admits that it’s a lot of work – there have been delays from the planned start date, sometime in September, as final details have been worked out and contracts are signed – but she’s happy to be involved in her property. “I like knowing what’s going on in the building,” she explains, adding that the board has not had much difficulty with the residents. “The people here are pretty good. It’s a nice building; we don’t have too many problems.”
Not that she wouldn’t be happy to step down if someone wanted to serve in her place. “They’re always looking for new blood. I have a year to go. If someone wants to step up, that’s OK with me.”
Additional reporting by Jason Carpenter.