Expert Found ‘Major Structural Damage’ in Collapsed Condo in 2018

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A 2018 report found that Champlain Towers South — the Surfside residential building that partially collapsed Thursday, killing at least four — had “major errors” in its structure.   

The study, conducted by Frank Morabito of Morabito Consultants, stated that insufficient waterproofing in the pool deck area was causing damage to the reinforced concrete structure below it, and recommended that the waterproofing be “removed and replaced.” Failure to do so would cause “the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the report added. Officials released the report late Friday. 

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The “systemic” structural deficiencies stem from the building’s original structure, the report explained. Built over 40 years ago in 1981, the entrance drive and pool deck “laid on a flat structure,” preventing water from draining. 

These proposed renovations would be “extremely expensive” and “be a major disturbance to the occupants of the condominium,” the report warned. 

The parking garage, under the pool deck, also “revealed signs of distress/fatigue,” the report noted, explaining that “several sizable spalls were noted in both the topside of the entrance drive ramp.” 

Despite describing the damage as “minor,” the study recommended the repairs be done in a “timely fashion.” Previous renovations had not adequately fixed the issue, the report added.

While the Condo Association took out $1.3 million earlier this year to refurbish the roof, the 2018 report found no major defect with the roof. 

The Champlain building was undergoing a compulsory safety inspection for buildings over 40 years old, Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer told the Miami Herald. Ahead of the safety inspection, the condo association had solicited assessments and bids from contractors, including Morabito Consultants. The 200-page scope of work amounted to $10 million in repairs, according to USA Today, which reviewed the report.

The Champlain condo association had also solicited bids for work in 2018, but the scope of work did not mention any structural deficiencies, according to Yaniv Levi, owner of Coast to Coast General Contractors, who reviewed it at the time. 

The repairs were in the range of $2 million in Coast to Coast’s estimation, but no one was ever picked for the job, Levi told Commercial Observer before the Morabito report was released. 

Levi, who specializes in concrete restoration of existing buildings in South Florida, suspected there was erosion in the foundation. “Over time in South Florida and Miami, with the king tides, the high water levels, erosion took place in the foundation. Over time it started creating voids, and settlement, and that led to the collapse,” Levi said. “That’s one of the theories.”

Norge Arnaiz, principal of Restore Construction Group, recently completed work at the Champlain Towers East, a sister building to the collapsed high-rise which a similar structure. He agreed that oceanfront properties were susceptible to concrete erosion. “During king tides, and certain high tides, [the basements] get full of water,” Arnaiz said. “That definitely could have been a big contributor.”

Update: This story has been updated to reflect that Restore Construction Group worked on the Champlain Towers East (at 8855 Collins Avenue), not the Champlain Towers North (8877 Collins Avenue), both of which are sister buildings to the Champlain Towers South.