Once in awhile I get to do what the people in the construction industry get to do every day. I get to build something.
As president of a small, self-managed New York City Co-0p, which is a peculiar form of residential ownership that turns a building into a corporation, and equates the right to reside in one of its apartments with ownership of a scheduled number of shares, I get to preside over no end of maintenance work, and on a few blessed occasions, an actual act of improvement or creation.
As an old brownstone Co-Op in Park Slope, Brooklyn, we’ve got our “issues,” and that’s when the trials and tribulations of construction management play themselves out in my own front yard—literally—as I struggle to lead my fellow shareholder/apartment owners to the safe shores of a job well finished and a job well done.
Let me add that we are talking about a 110-year-old row-house/once mansion, cut up since the 1930s into six apartments in a neighborhood that was headed for demolition only a few decades ago. Add to that we were part of a designated historic neighborhood, which means every exterior change must be documented and applied for and approved at the highest levels of the New York City Landmarks Commission before permits flow. Picture the joy that brings to our construction planning and management. Put it this way: when something finally works out, you feel great.
I am a coalition builder. The sidewalks of our corner building were a disaster--and so were those of our neighbors’ Co-Ops down the block—so I coordinated a string of Landmarks applications (yes, even for sidewalks,) and lined up a contractor whose work I admired, Green Isle Contracting, Inc., Long Island City, N.Y. The whole process took a couple of years, but I was patient, knowing that a good contractor is worth waiting for.
We turned the sidewalks of this corner of the neighborhood into something beautiful to see--except the city’s Dept. of Transportation turned around and fined our excellent contractor for blocking too much of the sidewalk during construction and cleaned his clock.
That threw the final step in the project, the laying of bluestone flags in the jointly-owned front courtyards of our building and the next one over, into jeopardy. The wrangling dragged on for more than a year, missing an entire construction season. But finally, we restarted construction and today, it is finally done. Actually it was done by Green Isle’s Gerry Dunne—“If a Dunne Can’t Do It, It Can’t Be Done!” he tells me in his Irish tones. Gerry is cleaning up and clearing the site today.
Our new courtyard is a work of art, a very subtle parabolic dish of 2 ft by 2 ft bluestone flags with a new drainage line under the center. That drain turned into a classic trade coordination fiasco at the last minute, when the plumber set the drain top 1 1/4 inches too low, according to the Gerry, although the plumber insisted it was set precisely where it had been before. After a string of calls our esteemed plumber returned on his own volition with a longer “no-hub” and set everything to rights. I guess we should have used virtual design and construction and laser scanning for quality control. Maybe next time.
But in the meantime, as I celebrate the completion of this lovely project, I am feeling a kinship with the people we write about in ENR who do this sort of thing on such a massive scale, against killing deadlines, day in and day out, for the improvement of the built environment of our world. How would we make it without you!
Thank you all.