Engineering firm warned of systemic problem with condominium in Miami area before fatal collapse
An engineering firm warned in 2018 the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, the Miami-area building that partially collapsed this week, that there was a “major flaw” in its design that allowed water to pool near its base.
Installing waterproofing on a flat deck surface, rather than a sloping surface that would allow water to drain, was “a systemic problem for this building structure,” according to the report. business. The city of Surfside, Fla., The site of the incident, posted the report on its website along with other documents on the 40-year-old building on Friday evening.
However, the same engineering company created another report citing an inspection around the same time in 2018, which gave the building its highest mark on several measurements, according to the town of Surfside. The city took the unusual step of adding comments to this report on its website, saying it only received this additional report after the building collapsed.
Engineers and real estate professionals who reviewed the reports said they reported serious issues that could have contributed to the collapse, but found no wording indicating the structure was in imminent danger at the time. .
The engineering firm’s reporting duo provide a seemingly contradictory message about the urgency of fixing the issues. Even the report with the wording “major error” contained this information on page 7 of a nine-page report and did not discuss the potential consequences of not fixing the problem immediately.
“The main problem with this building structure is that the waterproofing of the entrance / terrace of the pool / planter is laid on a flat structure,” said the October 2018 report from Morabito Consultants. , based in Maryland. “Because the reinforced concrete slab is not tilted to flow, the water sits on the waterproofing until it evaporates. The report was sent to the treasurer of the condominium association at the time.
The report called the waterproofing a major flaw in the development of the original documents for the 12-story building by the architect and consulting engineers.
“Failure to replace waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the report said.
Yet another 14-page report, which cites an inspection started on August 1, 2018 and completed early the following month, called the structure’s condition “good” on five measures, noting that there was a lack. apparent problems such as bulging and settling. This report also cited the waterproofing problem, but called the cracking of the concrete framing system: “Not important.”
The town of Surfside said it did not receive this 14-page report until Thursday evening, after the building collapsed, when the town said Frank Morabito, chairman of the engineering firm, had sent it. to city officials. The city, in a note above the document – which it released along with other documents on the building’s history – called it an “unverified report” that has not been officially submitted or authorized by owner. The report was not dated.
Mr. Morabito declined to comment earlier this week. He could not be reached for comment on Saturday. Kenneth Direktor, an attorney for the condominium association, did not respond to a request for comment on the recently released report. A person who answered a reporter’s call to a number associated with the former condominium association treasurer declined to comment.
Mr Direktor said in a previous interview that the condominium association is planning structural and electrical work related to the 40-year recertification of the building.
It is not clear whether the problems identified by Mr Morabito’s firm are linked to the catastrophic failure and collapse of the building around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, which left at least four dead and 159 others missing. Engineering experts have warned that it could take months, if not more than a year, to fully understand what brought down the building.
Fire at site of condo collapse hampers research
Authorities in Florida continued their efforts to locate survivors among the 159 missing.
Spectators near the partially collapsed building in Surfside, Fla. On Saturday.
Alexia Fodere for The Wall Street Journal
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Water in the parking lot was among the main complaints about the building raised by residents after the collapse, said Eliana Salzhauer, one of Surfside’s three city commissioners.
She also said the city was hiring an engineering company with experience in disasters to assess what happened to this building and make sure others in the city are structurally sound. This includes a twin structure, the Champlain North Towers, near the South Tower site.
“The city takes this very seriously, and we will shed light on what happened,” said Ms. Salzhauer.
Jesse Keenan, associate professor of real estate at the Tulane School of Architecture in New Orleans, said it was clear from the October 2018 report that the structural elements of Champlain Towers South were “inundated with water and totally gradients ”. He said he believed it “compromised structural integrity.”
The water intrusion issues described by the engineering company could indicate part of a series of contributing factors that compromised the building, said Roberto Leon, who teaches construction engineering at Virginia Tech and is an expert in structural failures. He also noted that the reports do not indicate any fears of impending failure.
Meanwhile, Miami realtors and attorneys said an inspection report revealing such significant threats to the structure of a building of this age would be unusual and some said potentially worrying.
Neisen Kasdin, managing partner of Akerman LLP’s Miami office and former mayor of Miami Beach, said buildings in the area are routinely inspected when they are around 40 years old and it is unusual for such inspections to reveal structural problems.
“Typically, it doesn’t involve the major structural components that support the building, but sometimes it does,” he said.
Yet when a report includes this kind of wording, it is often not dealt with urgently by condominium boards, says one engineer.
“There are a lot of parking slabs that are similarly written in reports and not processed,” said Nat Oppenheimer, director of New York-based structural engineering firm Silman.
Nelson Gonzalez, senior vice president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty, said he would have advised clients not to buy a unit in such a building, not because he feared it would collapse, but because that he feared homeowners were on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in appraisals.
Mr Gonzalez said his son, who works for him, was showing units in the building about four weeks ago and noticed that the balconies were dilapidated in a way that suggested they had suffered water damage . Some of the photos in the engineering reports showed images of degraded materials on the balconies.
“A lot of the balconies were of concern to the point that he didn’t want to step on them,” he said.
Alberto and Isabel Aguero, who bought a one-bedroom unit on the 11th floor in 2019, said they learned a few months ago that they would have to pay an appraisal of $ 80,000 for a range of repairs and upgrades of the building. Ms Aguero, 67, said owners of larger units were told they owed more than $ 100,000.
Ms Aguero said they weren’t aware of the Morabito reports or any structural issues, until they saw the information on Saturday.
The Agueros, who still live in New Jersey, had planned to move to Surfside full-time for their retirement, but the pandemic kept them out until March of this year. The couple’s son, 42, and his family were in the building when he collapsed and managed to escape.
“You could see things that needed fixing, like by the pool, some missing bricks on the walls, things like that. Said Mr. Aguero. But overall, he said, “I didn’t have any major concerns.”
—Deborah Acosta, Arian Campo-Flores, Daniela Hernandez, Laura Kusisto, Scott Calvert and Jim Oberman contributed to this article.
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