One of the attractions of a strata title living is the opportunity to savour a special lifestyle in interesting buildings located in exciting cities.
One that fits the bill to a tee is the Grand Central Apartments. Peter Parsons, the owner’s corporation chairperson, shares with us what he loves most about calling this magnificent heritage building home.
About Grand Central Apartments
Grand Central Apartments is the former headquarters of the Victorian Railways. It was completed in 1893 and extends 120m along Spencer Street in Melbourne’s CBD.
At the time of completion, it was the largest nineteenth century office building in Victoria and was emblematic of the extraordinary expansion of Victoria’s railways during the 1880s, and the administration required to operate it.
The building was vacant from 1985 until its residential conversion was completed in 1997. It now provides an approximate mix of 100 apartments and 100 hotel suites.
What is it that you love about Grand Central Apartments?
The building has a huge footprint, taking up most of the frontage of an entire city block. The original wrought fence runs along the entire front of the Renaissance-Italianate style building.
Built with stuccoed brick walls, the building has certainly stood the test of time.
The hustle and bustle of the busy city contrasts with the serene quiet inside the building, as the double entrance doors close behind you. The impressive silence is at least equalled by the magnificence of the grand staircase that greets you at the main entrance.
Original floor tiling lead to the staircase, flanked by cast iron balusters supporting a timber balustrade. A World War One honour roll is mounted on the rear wall at the first landing of the staircase. The plush red patterned carpet and long, wide passageways cap the walk to the apartments.
The location is excellent, being right in downtown Melbourne, close to the Southern Cross railway station, with free trams at the door, and across the Yarra River to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and Crown entertainment complex.
How long have you been on the committee?
I was one of the first to reserve an apartment in 1993, and was involved with the committee within a few years of the completion of the refurbishment in 1997. After returning from 10 years overseas in 2015, I was pleased to re-engage with the committee and became the chairperson after the 2015 AGM.
Had you always decided to join your Owners Corporation committee or was it a role you fell into?
Like most residents of the building, I am proud of the building and happy to contribute to its maintenance and improvement. From the time I first moved in, I have been engaged with the activities of the committee and actively sought election and contribution to the decision-making process.
What have been some of the challenges overcome, or successful projects completed by the committee at Grand Central Apartments?
Committees are made up of volunteers with good intentions. Some committee members can devote more time than others. Having one or two extra active members biases committee decisions to the extent that the outcomes can be negative. The active members might fall into the trap of micro-managing processes, people or service providers. Micro-managing often leads to delays because small decisions end up requiring a committee decision, and some members are not able to respond in a timely manner.
My position is that the committee should operate like the board of the corporation that it oversees. It should set policies, may adopt procedures, review progress reports, and make adjustments as necessary. Just like a company board, expert managers and service providers are appointed. If they are to be held responsible for the upkeep and improvement of the building, then they must also be given the authority to act. The committee then needs to monitor their performance and report back to, and be answerable to the Lot Owners through minutes, other reports and the AGM.
In the past six months, the committee has adopted several foundation documents that empower facilities manager with the authority to take action in a timely manner, improve our billing and debt collection process, induct new owners and tenants, number and control all committee documents, and consolidate how the committee itself should operate. For the facilities manager, we now have a works and approval delegation of authority that provides expenditure ranges and the documentation required, and a separation between who can incur the expense and who can approve it for payment. This leaves a robust audit trail of expenses for any future review.
Communication was somewhat ad-hoc. We now have branded communication, with a consistent document style that includes a Grand Central logo. This will mean that owners and residents will be able to quickly recognise a Grand Central document. Importantly, all documents are now numbered, with version control, so they are easy to file, find and edit for future use.
The building is listed by Heritage Victoria as one of Victoria’s significant buildings. We have a responsibility to future generations of Victorians to ensure the heritage values are maintained. We have some large and expensive projects commencing, such as the re-painting and restoration of the windows, and repairs to the front fence.
Spending less time on individual credit control activities, or approving $100 to replace a door handle, now allows the committee to spend more time on these larger projects. Some committee members may have felt frustrated with the apparent lack of progress, but part of the reason why the big projects have not been started is because of the multitude of small distractions.
How important is the relationship with your strata manager?
The relationship with Kristi Harris and Jin Xu at SSKB has been critical to the introduction of the changes approved by the committee. Kristi has embraced my desire for better document control and her office now maintains a Document Register to log quotes, reports, minutes, procedures/polices, and other documents.
All committee resolutions are now numbered and recorded in the Document Register. It is no longer necessary to wade through past minutes to find a resolution. Numbering of resolutions provides a unique identifier and eliminates the vague reference to a committee meeting held at some past time. With the resolutions consolidated into a single document, they are now uploaded onto StrataMax so all Lot Owners have equal and easy access to them.
Kristi and Jin also use the document template to prepare Lot Owner communication. With the header and footer including the date, document type, number and revision, the use of a template easily fits with the document control process. We now have a foundation upon which efficiency improvements can occur. For example, only 13% of Lot Owners receive correspondence electronically.
I have worked with SSKB to prepare a marketing campaign to move more owners from paper to electronic communication. This will lower our costs, help the environment, and bring more timely communication to lot owners, particularly inter-state and overseas owners.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of standing for an OC committee position?
Being involved in your committee is an excellent way of appreciating the challenges and complexities of running a small business. Lot Owners come up with all sorts of suggestions and ideas, some of which are tough to resolve or answer adequately. Although the committee may be operating more like a board, it is still made up of volunteers, with a wide variety of backgrounds.
Being aware of how to interact with your volunteer colleagues is important to ensure the committee performs. Although there may be a common interest, it is a different relationship than one has in a workplace, where people are paid and may be more entrenched in their positions. On the committee, people can simply resign, without any personal consequence.
What would you say are the top three qualities a committee member needs to have?
Mutual respect for your volunteer colleagues is the most important quality a committee member can have. Listening to other’s arguments and trying to understand their point of view can help shine new light on a problem and help with reaching consensus on a solution.
Acting in an honest and ethical way is also essential. If you get involved to solicit some personal benefit, then you will need to check your motivation. To a large degree, it is a thankless role. You will rarely satisfy all the Lot Owners, but as long as you fairly discharge your authority and the building is maintained and improved, then you will receive some personal satisfaction.
The ability to drive towards consensus decisions can build a stronger committee and community than simply relying on majority voting. Influencing your committee colleagues has a much more powerful long-term result than exercising role power by winning a divisive vote.
Knowing when to drop some aspect of a proposal to obtain consensus may deliver a better outcome. The dropped matter can always be revisited in the future, when those opposing it have had more time to consider it, or the aspects of the larger proposal that were adopted are found to not as radical as some may have feared.
What is the best part of being part of Grand Central’s OC committee?
The best part of being involved in the committee is the sense of satisfaction that I can have about keeping the building in good condition for its next 123 years. Making a positive contribution and being involved in decisions that impact on the living environment for residents, benefit both myself and the community which is Grand Central.
I would be pleased if my fellow residents saw me as trying to build bridges between previously polarised sections of our community. There is often more than one way to solve problems and the best way is rarely by wielding blunt objects.