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Getting a Hands-On Education

Former Board President Gilles Desrochers

Hampton Vistas

Long Island

Gilles Desrochers, like most people joining a co-op or condo board for the first time, had no idea what he was getting himself into. Now that he has completed a three-year term as president of the board at Hampton Vistas, a 48-unit condo development in Manorville, Long Island, Desrochers, a teacher, is ready to reminisce about the hands-on education he got. It wasn’t something you can get in any school, and it wasn’t always pretty. It was, after all, mostly about human nature.

“Being on a board is a mirror of our society,” says Desrochers, a 54-year-old native of Montreal who now teaches middle-school French in Bayport. “Some unit-owners want to participate and others want to be left alone as long as things run smoothly. As soon as there was something that affected their pocketbook, you would hear about it. You’re always one decision away from being the bad guy.”

Desrochers moved into Hampton Vistas in 2010, and it didn’t take him long to realize he didn’t want to be one of those people who wanted to be left alone. “You can’t always stand on the sidelines and be unhappy about how things are being done,” he says. “I needed to take action and become part of the board. It afforded me the opportunity to be part of something. That’s why I took the presidency.”

During Desrochers’ tenure, from 2012 to 2015, the board faced two major challenges. The first was hiring a management company to replace a former board president who had been acting as the property manager; and the second was how to tackle – and pay for – the replacement of skylights and roofs in the condo’s 12 buildings.

The first mission had some missteps. “You’re sort of married to your management company, and we went through a couple of them that were not satisfactory,” Desrochers says. Eventually the board hired Majestic Property Management, of Great Neck, which assigned Ryan Brown to the property. It has been a happy marriage. “Having Ryan and Majestic on our side has been a huge benefit,” Desrochers says. “He listens to our needs and he’s someone we can trust. He has knowledge we don’t always have – about things like snow and garbage removal – and that helps.”

The roofing job was even trickier. Once the board determined it would be more cost-effective to replace all 12 roofs at once, rather than staggering the work over several years, they took forceful – and controversial – steps. First, they persuaded a 75 percent “super-majority” of unit-owners to give them authority to borrow money from Capital One Bank. They then gave unit-owners the option of paying their share of the job up front, interest free, or helping to pay off the bank loan over 10 years, at a 5.5 percent interest rate. About half chose to pay immediately, which cut the loan down from $312,000 to $175,000, a major savings. The work was done on time and on budget.

In his native Montreal, Desrochers grew up playing hockey, rose from busboy to restaurant owner, then turned to acting and voice-over work in New York before settling into his current job on eastern Long Island. Teaching and board service, it turns out, have more than a little in common.

“Leadership skills are important, both in the classroom and on the board,” Desrochers says. With a laugh, he adds: “I got accused of treating my fellow board members like children. They said I should leave my teacher’s hat at the door.”

If Desrochers feels a sense of failure, it’s over his inability to foster a sense of community at Hampton Vistas. “It was a great learning experience,” he says, “but it would take a different person from me to bring this community to another place. With condo communities, many people share an ‘us-against-them’ mentality. It continued, regardless of what I tried to do. In co-ops, they have the ability to scrutinize their candidates. Here, individual needs are more important than the community at large.” – B

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