The Building Superintendent/Chief Engineers' Role
The "Super" Life in the Sunshine State
The role of the building superintendent or chief engineer for a condo or co-op will often vary by property and location. Nowhere is that more evident than in Florida, the Sunshine State, the land of “55-plus communities” and a retiree’s dreams come true. The dream is as varied as the folks that seek out Florida living every year.
And it's not just retirees and winter residents, but young professionals, couples, and families looking for sun, water, and a more relaxed lifestyle. Condos, on and off the beach, high-rise buildings, modular home parks, and planned communities all provide different opportunities and challenges for property management and maintenance personnel. The superintendent—or building engineer, or custodian, depending on the community—position occupies the unique space between the residents and/or owners and HOA administrators. No matter what other duties fill a job description, people skills and good communication skills are a must for the “go to” guy or gal wearing the super’s or engineer’s toolbelt.
Chief engineer Rick Watkins is well aware of the importance of good communication. Watkins fills a superintendent/chief engineer position at the Parkshore Plaza, an exclusive 32-story condo in St. Petersburg. The Parkshore Plaza is surrounded by lovely waterfront parks across from the beautiful Vinoy Basin and the Museum of Fine Arts.
“Building engineers truly provide customer service behind the scenes and face-to-face with our residents," says Watkins. “An ability to work with and communicate well with different personalities is very important.”
Watkins’ duties are spelled out in a job description but he does not have a contract. He oversees the maintenance crew and cleaning staff. A typical day for him begins early, reviewing any new maintenance requests and assigning jobs. Watkins also stays on top of scheduled preventative maintenance and monitors the results. Finally he will review the concierge logs for additional items that may require his attention. The Parkshore Plaza provides 24-hour concierge service, so the logs are a valuable communication tool between staff members.
Once all reviews are completed and jobs assigned, Watkins will physically inspect the building, the equipment, and the grounds to ensure all areas are in great condition.
After a check of the building supply inventory to ensure all needed purchases are made, Watkins will turn his attention to resident requests. He will consult with residents needing assistance or advice with maintenance issues inside their condos. “We don't do any repairs or service inside the condo units but we will give consultations and advice to residents if they request help,” he explains. “Because we have built a level of trust with our residents, it is nice to provide advice so they can make informed decisions about work that needs to be completed inside their homes.”
Most requests for advice come via email or the maintenance phone line, or through the concierges, but Watkins stresses that his staff is trained to work directly with the residents as well.
In addition to people skills, a superintendent/chief engineer at a property of this magnitude should have extensive knowledge of building construction, including mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. Expertise in reading blueprints and supervising maintenance employees of every discipline is also a must. Watkins recommends courses offered through local trade schools and management classes for anyone in the field interested in developing their professional skills.
A Man or Woman of All Seasons
Just south of St. Petersburg in the greater Sarasota area, licensed real estate agent Marsha Thames says, “The Florida market is unlike any other.” She should know. After 30 years in both real estate and property management, Thames has seen massive change and development in both arenas.
Although she is currently employed as an agent for Lennar Homes, Thames retains her license as a Community Association Manager (CAM). In many cases while working as a CAM, it was Thames’s responsibility to hire and oversee the superintendent position, and she feels strongly about including the super in all facets of community government.
“The articles of incorporation, rules and regulations should be reviewed annually and updated as needed depending on circumstances and current laws,” she explains. “The super should be part of that process in order to facilitate good communication and working conditions.”
Thames stresses the need for HOA to be user-friendly for residents and management staff alike. “The goal is to establish a democracy, not a dictatorship, and work together,” she says. Snowbirds, for example, affect the size and scope of community governments. A seasonal influx of winter residents can create a high demand for service and overtax even a well seasoned super.
Additionally, some seasonal residents don't realize what is reasonable when requesting help or services. Educating residents is an ongoing endeavor for most community associations. For example, Thames vividly remembers a 3 a.m. phone call she received from an agitated resident demanding she have a raccoon removed from the resident’s yard. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is equipped to handle those calls, but you won’t find raccoon removal in the job description for any super, or manager for that matter!
The Super-Sized Community
Pasco County, just north of Tampa, has seen tremendous growth over the last decade. Communities developed around a theme or clubhouse lifestyle are common.
Oakstead is a perfect example of such a community. It is a mixed development of homes and villas scattered over nine separate gated villages and sharing a common pool, clubhouse and recreational areas. Oakstead has an overseeing HOA and each village has an HOA. A Community Development District (CDD) also provides an additional layer of community government. The division of responsibility between a CDD and an HOA may vary between communities. Those variances can provide for widely differing job descriptions for a super.
In Oakstead, the chief engineer position is divided into two distinct areas of responsibility to adequately manage the 1,183 homes occupying 878 acres. A Field Manager and a Park Director hired and supervised by the CDD are required to work with the CDD board, the HOA boards, each other, and the residents.
Park and Clubhouse Director Nancy Intini has a well defined, two-page job description prepared by the CDD board. As park director, she is responsible for the community clubhouse, the pool, and surrounding pool area. She is required by the state of Florida to obtain a Certified Pool Operator license and to oversee pool maintenance. She is also the social director and plans all community parties and social events from inception to completion. Finally, she oversees the monthly newsletter and performs all administrative duties required to run a clubhouse. She is expected to attend all governing meetings, is responsible for maintaining a budget, managing staff and submitting payroll.
Intini does not have a contract for her position, and like most Florida properties there is no union involvement. However, she is pleased to work with and for a CDD and says the CDD is an added level of protection for the community. “The CDD is quasi-government, backed by 30-year bonds issued to the developer," she says.
Mario Grassi, field operations manager and Intini’s colleague, has an equally daunting list of duties. He also reports directly to the CDD board chair and serves at the pleasure of the board without contracts or union representation.
Grassi’s responsibilities center on the 878 acres winding through the villages and surrounding the Oakstead community. He must be well-versed on where responsibility rests for any project, repair or improvement. Oakstead is laid out around many natural conservation preserves. Those Cypress marshes are home to native trees, plants and animals and come under the protection of South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). Steep fines and even prison sentences are waiting for anyone that strays into or compromises these delicate areas. Grassi patrols the community with a watchful eye for any signs of trouble. He also regularly inspects the community’s lakes and retention ponds, which are home to deadly snakes, and of course, alligators. Grassi makes an effort to educate the residents and staff about the dangers of going too near these bodies of water, and he has the Nuisance Alligator Hotline on speed dial.
Grassi is also charged with developing outside contacts with vendors and agencies to ensure coordination of activities for repair or reimbursement for CDD-owned property such as fences, landscaping, walls and village gates. All expenditures for any capital improvement require at least three bids, and the finished projects must be approved before payment is issued. Grassi states, “Anyone interested in a community field manager position should have analytical and interpersonal skills.”
“Also,” Grassi says, “Florida fauna and flora and wetland knowledge is a must for a property like Oakstead, but properties will vary—they are all different,” he observes.
Those sentiments are echoed by Carol Piering, vice president, corporate communications for Associa, a community association management firm. “Every community is different although they may often appear similar,” states Piering. “Community associations are also complex."
In Florida, not only does a super or chief engineer have to handle a serious water leak, an HVAC breakdown, or a weather-beaten landscape, he or she must deal with the threat of hurricanes, snowbirds, and perhaps the occasional alligator lurking in the community’s waterways.
Anne Childers is a freelance writer and reporter living in Florida.