Inside Stories

Inside story: Birth of a roof deck

By Leonard Gottlieb  | May 20, 2010 - 7:19AM
after roofdeck.jpg

I bought my co-op 15 years ago in a 117-unit doorman building on the Upper West Side. When I moved in, the building had already been talking about a roof deck for many years but never acted upon it. Eventually I wound up chairing the committee charged with getting it done.

Not everyone supported it.  More of the newcomers wanted to pursue it and there were a lot of issues people were sensitive to, including cost.

We had enough money to pay for it out of reserves rather than do an assessment, which the board was very sensitive about.

To save money, we used concrete pavers instead of wood decking, which was okay because decking would have limited the size of the outdoor space due to the ratio of wood you’re allowed to use.

Also, we had the concrete pavers installed at the same time we were doing our Local Law 11 work, while the scaffolding was still up.  

We ordered teak furniture including five tables, some lounges and planters, and we installed an automatic drip irrigation system on a timer.  Myself and a couple of other residents do the gardening. Plantings cost about $1,000-$2,000 year.

Some people were afraid teenagers would go up and be mischievous or smoke or have sex.

We dealt with that by putting three surveillance cameras that transmitted to the doorman downstairs, and no one under 17 is allowed up there without a parent. In the two years since the roof deck has been open, we’ve had no problems whatsoever.

Also, the people in the penthouse were concerned about noise levels.  We muffled the doors on the landing outside of their apartment to make sure they wouldn’t bang as people exiting the elevator went up to the deck.

To keep the noise levels down outside, we made the roof deck a quiet zone, a place for relaxation and contemplation. We discourage cell phone usage and it’s not a playground—we have a playroom downstairs for children. People really do abide by that. It’s quite amazing—we’ve had really good responsible people using the roof.

There were also some concerns about liability if anything should happen up there. We found out that our building insurance already covered it, so we did not have to increase our coverage.  And for safety we elected not to put up umbrellas.  The water tank is up there so as the sun turns you sort of follow it if you want shade.

Although there were various concerns to be addressed, there was no group of people that rallied against the roof deck.  People understood it would add value to the building and given us a better quality of life.  And we kept people informed every step of the way—information was constantly being distributed to shareholders so they could see the progress.

In the summer people bring up food, tablecloths and plastic dinnerware--we don’t allow glass--to the tables to have dinner.  They sit and enjoy a beautiful dinner outdoors. In the mornings you see people meditating.

We did an end-of-summer potluck party up there—a meet-and-greet-your-neighbors, our first one ever.  Tables were set up, we had nametags and it was a wonderful, very well attended event.

The building allows people to rent out the space for private parties. The charge is around $150/hour for a minimum of three hours. We’ve had two or three up there, and the penthouse owners have been fine with it.

In fact, when I rented the roof for a party, I invited them and they said it was nice to be with other people outside—when they use their own private space they are usually by themselves.

We’re thinking of doing things like a movie night in the summer once a week. And one thing I did last summer was plant a communal herb garden in two of the planters which was very well received—basil, rosemary, parsley, cilantro. I want to do tomatoes this summer.

I’m not a big gardener though I do have a house in the country, but this is more fun, and it really feels good to get your hands dirty in the soil.

Now that it’s done, people keep bumping into me in the elevators and thanking me for doing this.

I think the roof deck has made for a much closer co-op—it’s sort of an added benefit that you really get to meet and speak with neighbors you might not in passing in the lobby and elevator.

The only thing we’ve really changed since opening is we made it wheel chair accessible to accommodate a couple of residents.

My advice to any building considering a roof deck is start with the basics: See if you can do it. Safety is a big issue so call in engineers to make sure the load is possible and that there won’t be any water damage.  Then call in the architect.  

Then do it.

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Banning renters from the roof deck is a dumb idea

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