Q & A with Goldman Copeland's president and CEO, Charles Copeland - by Matthew O'Shaughnessy

April 07, 2020 - Owners Developers & Managers
Matthew O'Shaughnessy

With a highly impressive resume of working with some of the most prominent companies, including 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, Metro North Railroad, Omnicom Group, Ruben Companies, Grand Central Terminal, Vornado Realty Trust, 1 Park Avenue, The Smithsonian Institution,1 Penn Plaza and scores more, New York City-based Goldman Copeland is a preeminent force in their field. President/CEO Charles Copeland is considered one of the country's most astute experts in innovative engineering, leaving a vast legacy for engineering many of the most legendary structures in Greater New York for leading commercial and institutional real estate owners. I asked Mr. Copeland about his firm's work on some of the aforementioned, renowned buildings.

Q. You've been at the forefront of your field for five decades. Tell us about some of your projects you are proud of. There are so many.

A. We re-engineered the historic Alexander Hamilton Customs House in lower Manhattan and enabled it to house the Smithsonian Institution's National Musuem of the American Indian. We have had the distinct honor of working with many of our clients over many years. We have worked, for instance, with Vornado Realty Trust and its predecessor firm, the Mendik Company, for 35 years. For one of their buildings, One Penn Plaza, we have engineered numerous projects and tenant spaces. We designed much of the building's infrastructure upgrades, for instance, particularly those related to improving energy performance. We also provided oversight of the installation of a 6.2 MW combined heat and powerplant, the largest in a commercial building in New York City.  For another Vornado property, 1 Park Avenue, we have upgraded the infrastructure, designed many tenant installations, and improved energy performance. 

Q. Goldman Copeland's client roster reads like engineering and real estate royalty. You've solidified a very prestigious position in your field since 1968. Your firm has represented a myriad of iconic structures in New York and beyond when it pertains to commercial and institutional real estate owners. As a visionary and a man who is highly regarded, where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

A. I've been inspired by two major commitments throughout my career: first, a love of historic buildings and a related desire to keep them functioning in the contemporary world, which is the only way to sustain them; and second, a concern for the future of our planet, which requires innovations in energy efficiency that are needed to sustain us all. Through those commitments, I've had the opportunity to help keep contemporary hundreds of buildings, including some of the best known in the world: Grand Central Terminal, the Empire State Building, and many of the theaters that make Broadway famous. I've also focused on energy innovations from the 1970s to the present. In the 1970s, I designed a rooftop solar installation that helped lead to a landmark federal legislation that requires utilities to buy electricity from renewable energy projects. Most recently, I designed for the city of New York an online Geothermal Screening Tool that Westchester County is now working to replicate. It allows property owners to assess the feasibility of geothermal ground source energy for heating and cooling every lot in the area. In New York City, that's almost 900,000 lots. We also create energy-conserving redesigns for many relatively inefficient buildings from the 1960s and 70s, a recent one from last year focuses on retrofitting steam turbines, a technology not used much in new buildings.

Q. Your firm has won many fine awards, including a wonderful citation for your work on the revitalization of Grand Central Terminal. Please tell me more about your approach to your work.

A. "The awards typically highlight our company's approaches to addressing the two commitments that I described previously: making historic properties function in a contemporary competitive world and developing energy-efficient solutions to today's environmental challenges.  The awards are, therefore, very gratifying,  because they both highlight our work in those areas and point to examples of how innovations can be transformative  - even pioneering. The online Global Screening Tool is just as innovative and pioneering now as the rooftop solar installation was in its day, and we have developed countless innovations in between.

Q. Tell us more about the cutting-edge Geothermal Screening Tool that Goldman Copeland orchestrated.

A. The online Geothermal Screening Tool is cutting-edge in several respects. First, we created it for the City of New York to assess every lot- almost 900,000. In doing so we demonstrated that it could function on that scale, but we also created a model that can be replicated by smaller jurisdictions across the nation and the world. Second, the Screening Tool is available to other jurisdictions free online. It's therefore totally accessible. We are helping Westchester County play a leadership role right now in replicating it. Third, by providing this model, we are championing a form of renewable energy that can play a far bigger role than it is currently playing in addressing the energy needs of our nation and world. The challenge is to use it where it can most effectively function. The Screening Tool reveals that.

Q. It appears that renewable energy is key. The Geothermal Screening Tool will affect nearly one million lots.

A. Copeland: With hundreds of U.S. communities working to reduce carbon emissions, the need to understand the full range of renewable energy options available is paramount. One often-overlooked option with enormous potential is geothermal ground source energy. Ground source energy is thermal energy stored in the subsurface ground. It can be accessed from any number of larger lot areas, of which most metropolitan areas have many, to provide efficient heating and cooling for nearby buildings. The potential for ground source energy can be evaluated on a lot-by-lot or district basis, but larger properties,  like campuses and housing or office developments, are typically well-suited to it. A new tool created for New York City to assess this technology provides a free source that other communities can modify to their own circumstances. New York City's Geothermal Ground Source Screening Tool was developed for the Mayor's Office of Sustainability and the Department of Design and Construction by Goldman Copeland. It enables users to simply assess the feasibility of ground source heating and cooling for every lot in all five boroughs - almost 900,000 lots.

Q. I understand your firm is doing energy and design work for more leading companies.

A. Yes, we are now implementing energy and related design work for many other real estate owners including the second largest NYC property owner, S.L.Green. Other clients include Rockhill, The Feil Organization(our client for over 25 years), Empire State Realty (Empire State Building) and more.

Q. What ultimately is Goldman Copeland's legacy?

A. Goldman Copeland has an extraordinary legacy of creating innovative engineering solutions to keep older and historic buildings, including some of the best known buildings in the world, competitive in a contemporary landscape. For Grand Central Terminal, for instance, we were honored by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for designing the mechanical electrical infrastructure that preserved the architectural integrity of the building by for example,designing a very important life safety system with minimal visual impact and using the hollow columns rising  to the ceiling of the Main Concourse to deliver air- conditioning without affecting the landmarked interior. We also have certified more ENERGY STAR buildings in the tri-state area than any other firm, and we have completed energy audits, and related retro-commissioning projects, for more than 50 million s/f of commercial properties. Goldman Copeland's legacy is on going and will continue to focus on engineering innovative solutions for older and historic buildings and driving energy efficiency, setting new standards in the process.

Matthew O’Shaughnessy is a contributing author, New Rochelle, N.Y.

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