The Inspiring Resiliency of a Rockaways Co-op

Habitat Magazine
03/26/2020

 

In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy battered the Nordeck Apartments, a six-building, 343-unit Mitchell-Lama co-op in Arverne, Queens, on the Rockaway Peninsula, the residents were stranded in a world turned upside-down. Their reaction carries a timely lesson for a city once again turned upside-down by an unimaginable disaster.

“The entire complex was completely devastated,” recalls Luke Pantaleo, an engineer at RAND Engineering & Architecture. “The entire boiler plant, which was underground, and the crawl spaces were flooded out, and the whole heating system was offline. The outdoor oil storage tank was also destroyed by the storm.”

In addition, windows were damaged, roofs leaked, and the facades and sidewalks took a heavy beating. Residents had no heat, hot water, electricity or elevator service. Storm water was everywhere.

“We were out of everything for about one month,” remembers board president Sharon Hamlin. “But nobody despaired. We all pulled together. It was not just the board and management, but also the shareholders who made sure that everybody was OK. First we took care of the elderly and gave them all portable heaters, but we were in dire need of everything. We needed to work together as a team.”

Slowly things began to get better. The board brought in a temporary oil tank and boilers. “That was expensive,” says Hamlin. “It cost us millions of dollars, and our oil bills were extremely high.” The board wanted to build an above-ground, stormproof boiler system, but it didn’t have the money. In 2017, the board and its professionals finally secured $46.1 million from the federal Community Development Block Grant's Disaster Recovery Program. that came through the city’s Housing Development Corporation (HDC). Up to that point, for five long years, all they could afford were Band-Aid repairs. “Their boiler plant was operating at 15 to 20 percent,” says Pantaleo. “Boilers were constantly breaking down and the heat was on and off. The distribution system below ground had a lot of leaking pipes and they were always trying to repair some damaged system to get by.”

The shareholders did not despair even though very little was working right. For years their windows leaked and failed to operate. Water from the damaged roofs seeped into hallways and apartments. But the board refused to buckle.

“This board was very strong in the sense that they always had the endurance to keep going,” says Pantaleo. “The damage was all around and they were in very bad shape, but they never gave up. That they finally got the funding is a true testament to their enduring commitment to bring this complex back to life.”

Now, nearly eight years after the catastrophe, the co-op has finally finished all repairs. The complex is as stormproof as it can get. Each building has its own boiler, positioned above the flood plain, so each building will be self-sufficient in the event of another storm. The facades, roofs and electrical systems are all new, and the windows are hurricane-proof.

“We were in a really bad place, in a hole,” says Hamlin. “If it wasn’t for the (federal) grant, I don’t think our co-op would’ve survived. The most important thing was that we all pulled together – the board; our management company, FirstService Residential; shareholders; our lawyer, Karol Robinson; the contractor, Skyline Restoration; and Rand Engineering. Everybody played an integral part. That’s what finally led to our success.”