Surfside condo had ‘major structural damage’ in 2018, mayor unaware of repair status
Mayor Charles W Burkett of Surfside said, 'Of course there should have been a follow-up. And I don’t know that there wasn’t'
SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: Three years before the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium that has killed at least five people, more than 150 people remain unaccounted for at the time of writing this report -- a concrete slab that the building was resting on had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repair.
The building collapsed on Thursday, June 24. Survivors said they were jolted awake around 1.30 am by fire alarms, falling debris and the feeling of the ground trembling. The building located at 8777 Collins Avenue was built in 1981. It was 13 stories tall and had 135 units. As per news reports, at least half of the units collapsed in the tragic incident.
Major structural damage
A consultant engineer called Frank Morabito wrote about damage near the base of the building as part of his October 2018 report. Morabito’s report found “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and “abundant” cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage under the building.
The damage was probably caused by persistent water leaks and years of exposure to the corrosive salt air along the South Florida coast. “Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” Morabito wrote in the report. However, he gave no indication that the structure was at risk of collapse. What he did say was the building needed repairs aimed at maintaining its “structural integrity”.
“The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas. Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the report said.
As per the New York Times, Morabito’s firm, Morabito Consulting, in a statement on Saturday, June 26, said it provided the condo association with both an assessment of the “extensive and necessary repairs” needed and an estimate of how much they would cost. “Among other things, our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public,” the statement said.
The firm recommended that the damaged slabs be replaced in what would be a major repair. It also noted that many of the building’s previous attempts to fix the columns and other damage with epoxy were marred by poor workmanship and were failing. Beneath the pool deck “where the slab had been epoxy-injected, new cracks were radiating from the originally repaired cracks,” the report said.
The Times also reported that emails show that the secretary of the condo association forwarded the report to an official in the town’s building department on November 13, 2018. Mayor Charles W Burkett of Surfside said that he did not know what, if any, steps were taken to examine the problems. “Of course there should have been a follow up,” he said. “And I don’t know that there wasn’t. I think we need to understand exactly what happened at that time.”
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County said officials there knew nothing of the 2018 report. On Saturday, she announced a 30-day audit of all buildings 40 years and older under the county’s jurisdiction, and she urged cities to do the same for buildings within their borders. “We want to make sure that every building has completed their recertification process,” she said. “And we want to make sure to move quickly to remediate any issues that may have been identified in that process.”
According to Gregg Schlesinger, an attorney specializing in construction defects and a former construction project engineer, these were all problems that should have been dealt with quickly. “The building speaks to us. It is telling us we have a serious problem,” Schlesinger told the Associated Press. “They (building managers) kicked the can down the road. The maintenance was improper. These were all red flags that needed to be addressed. They weren’t.”
The Times reported that Morabito Consultants said the company was engaged in June of 2020 to prepare a “repair and restoration plan” for fixes needed under the state recertification requirements. At the time of the collapse this week, the company said, roof repairs were underway but concrete restoration, which was to be handled by another firm, had not begun.