A day in the life of our assistant engineer

Posted on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 12:30pm

By Tracy Poyser

This article marks the beginning of a series titled “A day in the life of …,” which will provide our readers with a detailed look at the everyday tasks of those who work at Malibu East. Subsequent articles in this series will appear on an irregular schedule.

Have you ever wondered about the behind-the-scenes maintenance work and action it takes to keep our 51-year-old condo community running smoothly every day, not counting the inevitable emergencies? I sure have.

Who better to give us an insider’s view than our assistant building engineer Mircea (Mike) Rostescu, who will be honored for 40 years of service to the Association at the end of the year. (That’s nearly 80% of our building’s life!) He and our head engineer, Lou Colletti (who started working here a year after Mike), know every nook and cranny of Malibu East, from all those locked mystery rooms on the lower level to the 47th-level rooftop with its spectacular views.

During an hourlong interview in early June, Mike shared details about what an average workday could be for him, Lou and the 12 full-time maintenance/janitorial employees. Their shifts cover our building 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including overnight emergencies.

To start with, Mike gave me a glimpse of the rooftop deck and the huge, covered exhaust fans for each stack of our 12 residential units for floors 25 to 45 – with 13 on the south side and 12 on the north, all getting checked out 3-4 times each week, and especially after storms and high winds. The exhaust fans for floors 4 to 24 are housed on the third level – with the ones for the A and B tiers being accessible from the third-floor storage locker room. On our tour, I caught glimpses of the 46th-floor mechanical areas, decorated with a profusion of wall wiring and other mysterious stuff familiar only to savvy electrical/IT crews.

Mike’s shift runs from Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Lou is on duty Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mike lives in Norridge, not too far east of O’Hare, and his morning commute is only 20 minutes – about 10 times longer than Lou’s from his fourth-floor Malibu East dwelling. His and Lou’s first task each morning is to review the maintenance and janitorial jobs for the day ahead, reviewing action items from the previous night and assigning the day’s priorities for their staff. That covers every aspect of our building’s operations – residents’ service calls ranging from urgent to routine; outside maintenance during blazing hot summer days and howling subzero snowstorms; checking garbage chute rooms, hallway vents, rooftop exhausts, fourth-floor deck and pool area, Plaza hallways, lower-level service areas and so much more.

Another responsibility for our two building engineers is looking after Association-owned units that are being remodeled or occupied by renters – and this often involves outside contractors. Contract labor and technical expertise are also needed for major building projects, such as major electrical work like the laundry room rewiring, elevator repair, building A/C units and Comcast’s IT/cable connections. Contractors generally start at 7 a.m., and their timing/access needs are interrelated with our building staff’s schedules.

Of course, the ultimate accountability for Malibu East’s smooth functioning lies with our Management Office. Property manager Violette Deschamps and her assistant Scott meet with Lou and Mike every workday at 2:30 p.m. to review routine items, special projects, residents’ issues, staff training and scheduling, need for temporary support and any concerns raised by Malibu East’s Board of Directors or president. Sounds like a lot for just half an hour, but it’s usually enough to cover what needs to be done when and by whom. Plus, Violette and Scott get involved in emergency planning, from weather-related alerts requiring us to batten down the hatches, to neighborhood demonstrations that may threaten building security. Also, before leaving in the afternoon, Mike writes down key action items, plans his next workday and flags items to review with Lou, Violette and Scott.

According to Mike, what makes any day so much easier for everyone is the loyalty and work ethic of the entire maintenance staff. With an exceptional retention rate ranging from five to 40+ years, they have become a close-knit extended family, backing each other up easily, and been trained to do much more than just one assigned set of tasks. For instance, you’ll see our Receiving Room clerk Steve pick up maintenance shifts, or janitorial staffers like Janis or Terrell working at the front desk or in receiving.

By way of on-the-job training, staff members new to a task or service area will get to shadow an experienced colleague for a minimum of two shifts. Mike complimented Scott, who coached him in the use of the new Rise Buildings communications resource. Mike and Lou are always ready to provide their staffers with hands-on assistance, guidance or troubleshooting – or to roll up their sleeves for tricky repair jobs or unusual emergencies.

So, what should residents do to make our maintenance staff’s lives easier and avoid unnecessary emergencies? The garbage chute and the recycling rooms had been a concern, with people clogging the chutes or leaving trash in the recycling bins, but it has been getting much better, Mike said. His pet peeve is garbage disposals – people should use them only for food residue or soft items, and not let them chomp on peach pits or other hard items. They’re a pain to repair, and it’s a cost that residents can avoid.

Water leaks are probably the most frequent (and potentially disastrous) problem in our units, so it’s wise to frequently check under-sink spaces and water heaters – especially the original ones. There’s also a pesky summertime problem on very hot, high-humidity days when the air conditioning is working super hard: Condensation leaks in the connecting hose from the HVAC unit. It’s a building flaw – the main pipes aren’t big enough, causing condensation in the connector hose to back up and drip down into the HVAC housing. It happened to me recently, and I didn’t notice it until my downstairs neighbor reported water running down her wall from my unit. By that time I had a half inch of water on the floor of the HVAC cabinet, and it took a couple of our guys and a plumber to fix it. Maintenance does clean/rod out the main (vertical) condensate drain pipe stacks twice a year, but don’t forget to check your unit regularly, especially if you still have the original 51-year-old equipment.

I asked how the last two-plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our maintenance staff. During the height of the pandemic, only Lou or Mike was allowed to enter a unit, wearing full personal protective equipment and masks, to protect the residents and minimize staff exposure to the virus. Mike says the entire crew was very grateful for the cooperation and patience they got from everyone during this difficult time, especially when needed parts were delayed because of supply shortages.

So, I hope this gives you at least a small glimpse of the mix between routine, challenging and unpredictable tasks and projects that make up a workday in the life of Mike Rostescu, his taller “twin” Lou Colletti and their maintenance crew. There’s so much more to it that I still don’t know – it would have taken way too much time out of Mike’s busy day.

Now, if you wonder why a simple service call sometimes can’t get scheduled right away, please remember that we live in a 500-unit vertical community with amazing amenities, and a small group of competent, committed people trying their very best to keep us all safe and happy. Or, just ask Mike if you can job-shadow him for half a day – a full day would be way too exhausting!