We Love NY! OFMR’s Restoration of Cooper Hewitt

By Errol Gerling, Assistant Museum Building Manager & Evan Goodie, Administrative Team Leader

What sort of imagery comes to mind when you hear the word “renovation”? You might imagine two photographs, labeled “before” and “after”. It can be impressive to contrast the final, new result with its humble beginnings, but what about everything in-between? In a large building, this “in-between” involves a hidden world of activities behind the walls, above the ceilings and below the floors. This hidden world is the bread and butter of the Office of Facilities Management and Reliability (OFMR).

There’s just such a renovation underway in New York City’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (CHNDM), and OFMR’s local NY staff has been very busy supporting it. On a daily basis OFMR staff is draining down/re-charging water lines, operating the fire alarm system, and shutting down and re-starting equipment to aid the contractors performing the renovation. This renovation also involves demolition, and in any major renovation project, the demolition phase can be filled with uncertainty. However, experience with other recent renovation projects has taught us to anticipate the unexpected, and to know that inevitably issues will arise.

This particular project is unique in that some of the utilities and pneumatic systems are shared between the CHNDM and its neighbor the Miller Fox House. This placed the Miller Fox’s electricity, heating and cooling, and some of its water systems, at risk. The result: an opportunity to anticipate. We purchased and installed a 75 gallon air compressor and a number of ball valves to isolate the two buildings, just in case the contractors compromised the pneumatic system. Michael Fabio (our electrician) installed a new power circuit with all the proper fixings, and Matthew Griffo (our plumber) added new pneumatic lines and isolation valves in both the Mansion and the Miller Fox House. As the demolition was underway, what we anticipated became a reality. We were faced with power outages, cut lines and even equipment failure, but thanks to predictive efforts, the Miller Fox HVAC system was unaffected.

The risk seemed averted for the present and future… until we discovered that the location of the standby Air Compressor was in the path of future construction. So, after working with the Office of Engineering Design and Construction (OEDC), we selected a small area that will remain unaffected by the renovation. The OFMR department jumped into action to relocate the electrical and pneumatic systems (and of course the 300 pound air compressor) in record time. I commend Kurt Russo (who coordinated the efforts of the OFMR department) and of course, I commend the OFMR-NY staff for their commitment to serve the needs of both the Museum and the OEDC department. This leads to a final interesting thought: do you know how you can tell, during that chaotic time between the beginning and the end of a renovation, when OFMR is at its best? It’s when you don’t notice anything out of the ordinary at all.