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Mining For Gold

When the board of 318 West 100th Street decided to build a storage room last year, they had two issues to address. First, they wanted to create a new amenity for the unit-owners in the 32-unit prewar condominium and second, they were looking for a good excuse to clean up a room that had become the building’s junkyard of unwanted or mostly unused items.

For years, the building’s basement had basically been “a free for all,” recalls Gerry Fifer, the board president. “It consisted of a couple of rooms where people would stuff their stuff.” Every once in awhile, a board member or two would clean out the room on a Sunday but after years of doing that, the board finally said, enough. “We knew we had to do something,” says Fifer.

That was then, this is now.

Today, the basement at 318 West 100th Street is a nitpicker’s dream come true. The trash and debris have been cleared away, and all personal belongings are located in 32 woven-wire storage lockers, installed by Giant Industrial Installations, a local representative of the Louisville, Kentucky-based Wirecrafters. The lockers are rented by the unit-owners on a per-month basis, and the cost is based on the size of the storage lockers, with the smallest lockers renting for $10 a month, the medium ones renting for $23 a month, and the largest renting for $34 a month. The final cost of installation: $14,000, and well worth it, says Fifer.

“It’s worked out really well. Almost all of them are rented,” she adds, noting that once the board decided to install, it sent out numerous memos and staged informational meetings with the condo members to talk up the project. And the primary reason why the board decided to install the wire-mesh lockers was because “we wanted to be able to see inside to make sure people weren’t storing anything they weren’t supposed to be storing.”
More and more boards are struggling to find space in their buildings. Building a storage room or reorganizing the basement to create individual storage lockers solves two problems at once, observes Lynn Whiting, director of management at Argo: “You are catering to a need for people who live there, and you are also producing income [for the building].”

While some companies will install storage bins and leave it up to the co-op or condo board on how and whether to charge rent, others, such as Bargold, based in Long Island City, will build and install the bins for free, lease them directly to the shareholders or unit-owners and remit 25 percent of the proceeds back to the co-op.

That’s the arrangement Bargold recently drew up with a co-op at 240 East 79th Street. Under the agreement, the company installed 21 storage lockers. It will lease the lockers, at a cost of $44 to $70 a month (depending on the storage bin’s size), to the shareholders for the next 10 years. When the lease is up, the co-op can either renew the arrangement or cancel it, at which point Bargold would remove the lockers.

“The biggest problem for co-ops in cleaning up a basement is getting everyone to claim their stuff,” says Josh Goldman, president of Bargold. Often, that takes the longest amount of time. After that, hiring a company to install lockers or wire-mesh cages can go pretty quickly. “We do a fully enclosed, all-steel [locker], and there is a fire retardant plywood platform installed to keep belongings off the ground in case of water,” says Goldman.

The company also agreed to build and install a bike rack for 25 bikes and additional shelves at no cost to the co-op. While there are only 21 lockers and 66 units in the building, there wasn’t room to build 66 lockers and a bike rack, so the board compromised, ordering lockers for only a third of the shareholders.

If a board is looking to create more space in the basement, and is concerned about costs, one way to raise the money is to rent out the bins in advance, says Whiting. Another money-raising technique is to install rent-out spaces on a bike rack. The charges depend on where the property is located. Some can charge as much as $150 a year to rent a bike space in the basement, says Goldman, while others charge as little as $10 annually.

At the end of the day, however, when looking to create more space in the basement, what boards need to keep at the forefront is that the space needs to be clean, safe, and organized.

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