Historical society adds property manager

Nonprofit organizations are non-business entities, but like businesses, they have operating expenses and need revenue streams to cover them.

That’s one of the reasons why the Wilton Historical Society recently added a property manager to its payroll, and hired real estate agent Glenn O’Brien of Norwalk to work the part-time position.

O’Brien started his new job in September. It being a part-time job, he also sells homes for O’Brien Premier Properties LLC, a full-service residential and commercial brokerage in Fairfield County, brokered by his brother, Kevin O’Brien of Wilton.

Before getting into real estate, O’Brien spent 24 years working on the side of operations at Fujifilm, where he handled the photography corporation’s finances, accounting and inventory.

“When I was in college,” O’Brien added, “I also worked as a carpenter, so I can perform a lot of the maintenance work that the Wilton Historical Society opts not to farm out to vendors.”

The financial management skills he developed at Fujifilm, taken with the skills in property management he acquired selling real estate and the maintenance skills he got working as a carpenter, qualify O’Brien to handle all of his new responsibilities, which he said include “managing the budget, remaining on-call 24/7, helping to maintain 17 facilities, and maintaining the tenant base.”

“Mario [Pedone, maintenance manager at Wilton Historical Society] and I take care of a lot of the stuff that contractors don’t do,” he said. “It saves money. We clean the gutters, power wash the facilities, set up chairs for events, and shovel sidewalks when the guy who normally does that isn’t available.”

“The society has 11 tenants, each with a particular set of needs. I field tenant calls 24/7,” he said.

On the finance side, O’Brien is looking within the society’s budget for money to replace items. “I’m going over the finances and looking for funds so that we can start repairing and replacing things,” he said.

On the horizon, according to O’Brien, are several projects. “We’re currently soliciting bids to redo the flooring at the main location,” he said. “The furnaces need to be replaced also.

“We have multiple boilers that are about to go, too,” O’Brien continued. “We’re thinking about converting to gas, and I’m working with Eversource Connecticut to get pricing for that.”

O’Brien said he and the society hope this work can be done during the spring and summer so the new gas boilers will be ready for next winter.

“We have to replace them one by one, too,” he added, “and at the present time, there are no funds for that.”

According to O’Brien, there are certain challenges inherent to managing historic properties. Balancing history with functionality would be one of them.

“It’s challenging to keep buildings historic when you need to replace parts of the structures,” he said. “With flooring, for example, it’s not your normal sand-down and varnish; you have to coat the floors with special wax to preserve the original quality.”

Additionally, O’Brien said, he’s been confronted with the challenge of keeping tenants, whose rent payments the society depends upon to survive.

“If someone moves out,” O’Brien continued, “we have to get someone to move in so that that revenue stream keeps flowing. When there’s a vacancy, you’re losing potential revenue, so if a tenant leaves, I work with Realtors to rent out the vacancy.”

O’Brien said that at the present time there’s one vacancy left to fill across the Wilton Historical Society’s three locations.

O’Brien graduated from Sacred Heart University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He has lived in Norwalk since birth, and attended Norwalk schools.

“Things are going great,” O’Brien said of his new job. “I love the work. I like the challenge of fixing things myself, instead of having someone else do it. In the past, the society would call carpenters, landscapers and electricians all the time. Now if there’s something Mario and I can fix, we do it ourselves.”

“At the end of the day, it saves the Wilton Historical Society money,” he said.