Well-prepared, NY buildings fare Irene with little damage

By Jane C. Timm | August 31, 2011 04:25PM

alternate
text
From left: Stonehenge Partners COO Andrew Hoffman, Jeffrey Levine, principal of Douglaston Development, Michael Gubbins, vice president at the Albanese Organization and Joseph Sbiroli, principal of Ventura Land

After a major evacuation, extensive preparations and a two-day mass transit shutdown, New
Yorkers have emerged after Hurricane Irene to find their city mostly unscathed.

“It was a remarkable non-event,” said Andrew Hoffman, COO of Stonehenge Partners.

Stonehenge, which manages approximately 2,500 apartments in 20 buildings, avoided the
evacuation orders with buildings like Midtown’s Ritz Plaza and 10 Downing.

Hoffman said they geared up for the storm by supplying each building with plywood, water
pumps, water vacuums, flashlights, batteries and thousands of glow sticks. The preparations cost
approximately $10,000. Stonehenge Partners had all hands on deck for the storm — contractors
and staffers were put up overnight in vacant apartments because the transportation system wasn’t
running. But, Hoffman added: “You cannot be over-prepared for a situation like this.”

It could have been a lot worse, he noted.

“If my building was in Brattleboro, Vt. I don’t think any amount of preparation could [have
helped] me.”

The city did a great job in preparing for potential disaster and notifying New Yorkers, he said.

But, according to Jeffrey Levine, the principal of Douglaston Development, which developed several buildings in the evacuation
zones, many residents chose not to leave.

Levine estimated that 50 percent of his residents in buildings like the Edge in Williamsburg and 555 West 23rd Street in Chelsea — both of which were in
evacuation zones due to their proximity to the East River and the Hudson River, respectively — chose not to evacuate. Levine said their building staff stayed behind in these buildings to help
residents who decided to stay home.

The workers “really deserve to be commended,” Levine said, for working “around the clock”
before and during the storm.

Levine said that to prepare for the storm, they secured or moved anything that could become a
projectile in the storm and cleared and double-checked all roof drains.

“The last thing you want is a clogged roof drain in six inches of rain,” he said.

The Edge, whose approximately 260 occupied units were given evacuation notification, from this past
Saturday morning to Monday, saw a few recently-planted trees damaged in the storm. Aside
from those trees and a few leaks, his buildings and construction sites had “no damages of
consequence.”

In Battery Park City, with buildings below sea level, the evacuation orders weren’t taken so
lightly.

Michael Gubbins, a vice president and director of residential management for the Albanese
Organization, was on vacation in Ireland last week. He flew back last Friday help orchestrate
evacuations and prepare for the hurricane for three Battery Park City buildings with
approximately 300 apartments each — the Solaire, the Verdesian and
the Visionaire.

The preparations — which cost Albanese about $2,000 per building — included sandbagging and
securing entranceways with plywood reinforcements in case of surge flooding and backing up
computer databases offsite. They also had to provide food and other necessities for staff who
stayed behind after the evacuations to monitor the buildings for damages.

For the evacuations of the three buildings’ 900 apartments that house mostly families, Gubbins
commissioned private buses — which cost another $2,000 — to help move residents to higher
ground. For the resident’s many pets, they helped find boarding locations in safer areas.
Gubbins said that they were aided by the fact that each building that Albanese manages already
has an emergency disaster plan, which cost around $25,000 to prepare and implement, and trains
residents and building staff on a variety of disaster plans. Gubbins said there were no damages
to their three residential buildings in the storm and he was able to join his family in Ireland this
week for the rest of his vacation.

Not all buildings fared so well, though.

Joseph Sbiroli, the principal of Ventura Land, said that despite careful preparations, including
removing a few trees from building courtyards and insulating and waterproofing basements,
one of his Chelsea apartment buildings that was undergoing renovations at the time was hit with
major water damage, impacting 15 apartments.

“It’s going to be a big insurance claim,” he said. Ventura
owns and manages 1,000 apartments in 20 buildings mostly in Manhattan and Queens.

Sbiroli noted that the large rainstorm 10 days earlier had helped Ventura prepare for Irene.

“It exposed a lot of our soft underbelly,” he said. Most leaks reported were on high floors, which
seem to be more susceptible than Ventura’s basements. “We have basement apartments, too” he
added with a laugh, “but many of our supers live in the basement, though, so we’re always quick
to know about leaks there.”

Despite the damage his building in Chelsea did face, Sbiroli echoed a common sentiment: “It
could have been a lot worse.”

Levine agreed.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said. “nobody has a crystal ball for predicting these things.”