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A Carnegie Hill Co-op That’s Powered by Committees

By Bill Morris, Habitat Magazine, April 18, 2019

The facade at 1150 Fifth Avenue was recently restored. Up next: modernization of the passenger elevators.

At many New York City co-ops and condos, the board is dominated by a small group of dedicated doers. At others, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, a driven individual single-handedly runs the show. And then there is the 72-unit co-op at 1150 Fifth Avenue, where an active group of committees helps the seven-member board tackle everything from gardening to the gym, finances, entertainment, lobby makeovers, and major capital projects.

“The feeling in the building is that we like to make everyone feel like they’re part of the community,” says Richard Macris, a retired securities industry specialist who joined the board as treasurer in 2015 and now serves as president. “With our committees, seven people are not running the building.”

This democratic culture predates Macris’s arrival on the board. “The committee structure has always been here, and it’s very strong and effective,” says Harry Smith, vice president and director of management at Gumley Haft Property Management, who has managed the co-op for the past seven years. “It’s a textbook on effective communication. This building fosters teamwork.”

Consider the looming elevator project. Smith recently alerted the board to two new city regulations: door-lock monitors must be installed on most elevators by the end of this year; and an emergency brake must be added by January 1, 2027. The co-op is in an elegant pre-war building designed by the venerable architect J.E.R. Carpenter, and its two original passenger elevators are still in use nearly a century after they were installed. Realizing it faced a major reckoning, the board appointed an elevator committee made up of Macris, Smith, an elevator expert from Sierra Consulting Group, plus two shareholders. The shareholders were selected specifically because they represent divergent points of view. “One is skeptical about spending money,” Macris says, “and the other is more inclined to tackle big capital projects.”

The committee was tasked with addressing a weighty question: should the board do the minimum required work for about $100,000 and hope for the best, or should it perform a long-overdue modernization for more than $500,000 and buy years of peace of mind?

“The property manager recommended that this was the time to do the modernization,” Macris says. “After the consultant did a cost-benefit analysis, the committee made sure that this was the way to go – and that everybody was fine with an assessment upwards of $500,000.”

The board put out periodic newsletters, keeping shareholders informed during the deliberations. The committee reached a consensus to modernize the elevators’ mechanicals, but not the cabs, which had been updated several years ago. “Since it’s getting harder to find parts, and since we didn’t want to have a breakdown or a shutdown,” Macris says, “the board decided it doesn’t make sense to spend $100,000 to comply with the new regulations instead of spending $500,000 on modernization that should have been done years ago. The regs pushed the board to vote unanimously to do this.”

The board has since imposed an assessment spread over six months, and work is scheduled to begin in May – one elevator at a time – and end in the fall. The looming job is sure to bring temporary inconvenience, but it has one advantage over the recently completed restoration of the building’s brick and limestone facade, which was also guided by a committee.

“An elevator project is more self-contained than a facade project,” Macris says. “And there shouldn’t be any surprises.”


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