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Engineer’s report warned of structural damage prior to condo’s collapse

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Dive Brief:

  • A 2018 engineering report warned of “major structural damage” at the Champlain Towers South condo that suffered a partial collapse last week, according to documents released by the town of Surfside, Florida.
  • Built in 1981 by late Miami beach developer Nathan Reiber, a recent academic study also found the building, which was undergoing a 40-year re-inspection as well as re-roofing work, had been sinking 2 millimeters per year since the 1990s due to subsidence, or settling of the ground in what was once a marshland area.  
  • As search and rescue personnel continued to comb through the wreckage for survivors, state Sen. Annette Taddeo called for changes to building inspection rules. “Buildings need to be inspected much sooner than 40 years, especially in a county where sea-level rise can affect a foundation,” she tweeted.

Dive Insight:

The engineering report, conducted by Palm Beach Gardens, Florida-based Morabito Consultants, warned that failed waterproofing below the building’s pool deck was causing structural damage in the concrete foundation of the building. “Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the report warned. 

According to the New York Times, the condo association was preparing to address the issues contained in the report when the building collapsed.  

Adam Mopsick, CEO of Miami-based construction services firm Amicon, which works on behalf of building owners, told Construction Dive that deferred maintenance among condo associations is a common issue in the area. 

“We often see boards and owners defer systemic infrastructural issues in their buildings,” said Mopsick in an email to Construction Dive. “When these things are put off, they may increase risks, could reduce value of real estate assets, and ultimately cause repairs to be more expensive and intrusive to the inhabitants of the properties.”

Tom Smith, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said in a statement emailed to Construction Dive that collapses of this kind are extremely rare. “However, it is imperative to identify the root cause of failures when they do occur, and to ensure that proactive steps are taken to prevent future incidents,” Smith said.

As of Sunday evening, 9 people were confirmed dead, while another 152 were still unaccounted for. 

Construction industry officials cautioned that it was too soon to determine an exact cause for the building’s collapse.

“This was a terrible tragedy,” Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs at the Associated General Contractors of America, told Construction Dive in an email. “There will be a lot of study into what caused it and it is really important that we let that process unfold so we can take the right steps to make sure something like this never happens again.”

Shimon Wdowinski, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University who authored the study, told USA Today, “We saw this building had some kind of unusual movement.” But he noted the building was only mentioned in a single sentence in the report. “We didn’t give it too much importance.”

Indeed, Wdowinski told the Washington Post that it was unclear whether subsidence contributed to the building’s collapse, even though an image from the study highlights more progressive settling on the building’s site than surrounding areas.

Screen Shot 2021 06 25 At 8.12.04 Am

The circled area to the far right higlights evidence of subsidence at the Champlain Towers South site. 

Retrieved from Florida International University on June 25, 2021

 

“It appears to be something very localized to one building, so I would think the problem was more likely to be related to the building itself,” Wdowinski told the Post.

The Post also reported that the roof of the building recently underwent replacement and passed a roof inspection on Wednesday, and that the building was preparing to repair corroded concrete and steel as part of its 40-year re-inspection.  

Matthys Levy, a consulting engineer and author of “Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail,” told USA Today that uneven settling could have stressed the building’s structure.

“If you have two parts of a building and one part is well-founded and doesn’t move that much and the other is not, then between the two, you get movement,” Levy told the paper. “That can cause distortion in the floor slabs. They can begin to crack; suddenly, you get cracking, breaking and fracturing.”

According to the Real Deal, the building was constructed by the late Reiber’s Nattel Construction, which is listed as inactive in Florida corporation records. The online real estate news outlet said that JJI Supply, a West Palm Beach-based general contractor, was working on the roof project.

While the developer would not be held accountable for the building’s collapse due to the statute of limitations, according to the Real Deal, the engineer handling the recertification could have “a lot of skin in the game.”

Manuel Drezner, a unit owner in the building, filed a lawsuit seeking class action status and more than $5 million in damages Thursday. The suit, filed against the Champlain Towers South condo association, alleges the collapse could have been prevented “through the exercise of ordinary care, safety measures and oversight.”

“According to public statements made by Defendant’s attorney Ken Direktor, ‘repair needs had been identified’ with regard to certain structural issues but had not been implemented,” the lawsuit alleges. “One of the most breathtakingly frightening tragedies in the history of South Florida followed.”



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