It was a question of security. The Sands, a 111-unit, 14-story co-op at 321 East 45 Street, was having intercom problems. Although the property, between First and Second Avenues, has a doorman on duty from 4 P.M. to midnight, residents were concerned about relying on the 56-year-old intercom as the only watchdog.
"The system was pretty much under continual repair because there seemed to be some internal wiring problems due to its age," recalls Tom Uhl, a board member. "In my own unit, I could release the door from my apartment, but I couldn't hear the doorman or any guests on the phone or they couldn't hear me. So it came down to the point where if I knew visitors were coming, they called me on the cellphone from the vestibule, and I released the door. But if I had a surprise guest or somebody was delivering something, and they didn't have my cellphone number, it was a problem."
The Sands is primarily made up of studio apartments. The average resident, Uhl says, "is somebody who has moved up in their career or perhaps has been renting an apartment or sharing an apartment early in their career. We have a number of single women. We don't want any security problems."
To pay for a new intercom, the co-op refinanced its underlying mortgage for $2.5 million, which included funding for the intercom replacement and any future projects. After much discussion, the board opted for a Video Intercom system because "it would provide us with more security," says manager Ralph Davis, an assistant vice president at ABC Realty.
Uhl, the board member, is also a retired engineer; he spent 30 years at Con Ed, some of that time at the Indian Point nuclear reactor. "I took the lead [in developing] the request for proposal, [and] getting our technical specifications together. Then I did the technical review of the [five sealed] proposals that came back and scored them. We went with Academy Mailbox."
Matthew Arnold, the president of Academy Mailbox, says he based his bid on utilizing intercoms from Aiphone, a provider of communications systems. The outdoor and vestibule units are stainless steel panels and include a color camera with a 170-degree view, a microphone, and a digital keypad to page apartments. LEDs built into the units help identify visitors at night. The units in the residents' apartments allow them to speak with visitors and zoom and tilt the front door camera to get a good view. By pressing a button on the intercom, residents can unlock the door into the vestibule. The Aiphone allows the door release timer to be set from only a few to as many as 20 seconds. Arnold says the second unit guarding the lobby provides assurance that the visitor hasn't allowed an unapproved person to attempt to enter the building at the same time.
A key to keeping the project affordable was Academy's ability to reuse the cable from the previous intercom: copper in a PVC sheath. "To rewire would have added another 25% and doubled the time for the job - you need to run a serpentine line through the building, through each apartment, from apartment to apartment - and the aggravation factor for those tenants and the time factor would have been a lot greater," says Arnold.
The job, which cost $73,000, went in very smoothly, thanks, partly, to the presence of Tom Uhl. "He was very talented and was able to help oversee things," Davis recalls. "He was crucial in helping to oversee its installation."
Next up at The Sands is a basic access control system Academy will install at the front entrance allowing residents to use a key fob to enter the building without having to enter a code into the intercom panel.