By Bill Morris
It was, pure and simple, a communication breakdown. The hardwired intercoms in the six-story, pre-war co-op on the Upper West Side were beginning to fail. The talk/listen/buzz-in system was performing erratically, the audio sometimes so garbled that it was impossible to understand what the person on the other end was saying. One result of the breakdown was that passersby claiming to be delivery men were getting buzzed into the building. Not good.
“What really brought things to a head was shareholder concerns about the security of the building,” says John Viesta, who has lived in the building for 13 years and is now secretary of the seven-member co-op board. “This spring we had a town hall-style meeting where shareholders expressed the desire to have a video system so they could see who was at the front door.”
Technology has revolutionized front-door-entry and intrabuilding-communication systems in recent years. Most notably, smartphone-linked systems make it possible for residents to see visitors or delivery men and then buzz them into their building via their smartphones – even if they’re chilling on the beach in Cancun. Viesta, who at 38 is the youngest member of the co-op board, was initially in favor of installing such a system because of the convenience and lower costs. But then the conversation got complicated.
“Personally, I was quite attracted to one vendor’s wireless system,” says Viesta, a lighting designer for theater and television. “But we have many retirees and people with grown children in the building who don’t have smartphones or home computers. Although the vendor could connect the wireless system to land-lines, we thought it would be a little too complicated for some of the older residents. Most of the board felt more comfortable staying with a closed-circuit, hardwired system versus a cloud solution. Another thing that dissuaded us was the fee – $3.50 per unit per month – and the required internet access.”
There are other reasons why boards choose to stick with hard-wired technology. A 53-unit co-op near Columbia University recently considered a wireless intercom system – until the board realized that the high level of subletting to Columbia students meant there would have to be multiple names per apartment on the intercom panel in the lobby – and they would have to be updated every six months. “So the board decided to go old school and re-install a wired system, even though it was more costly,” says the co-op’s property manager, Jeffrey Weber, president of Weber-Farhat Realty Management.
After reviewing several bids, the Upper West Side co-op board hired Academy Mailbox Company to install an Aiphone GT-1C7 video system at a cost of $20,000. The existing wires are still usable, which was good news, because replacing the wiring would have doubled the cost of the job. Better yet, the new system will not require an assessment or a bump in monthly maintenance.
“We recently refinanced our underlying mortgage with National Cooperative Bank,” Viesta says. “They gave us an incentive to stay with them, and by taking advantage of lower interest rates, we were able to take out a larger loan and keep maintenance the same. NCB insisted that we set aside $150,000 toward capital projects. We’re paying for the intercom upgrade out of that.”
The co-op may not be on the cutting edge, Viesta concedes, but thanks to the new system’s video component and improved audio, bogus delivery men will no longer wander the hallways. Already the board is turning its attention to the next challenge: looming facade repairs mandated by Local Law 11.
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – CONTRACTOR: Academy Mailbox Company. MANAGEMENT: Steve Wilson at Blue Woods Management Group. LENDER: National Cooperative Bank.