Miami condo owners warned of “major structural damage” in 2018

The owners of condos in the Miami apartment block that partially collapsed on Thursday, leaving nine dead so far are some 152 people unaccounted for, were warned of "major structural damage" to the concrete slab below the pool deck in October 2018, it has emerged.

They were also warned of "abundant" cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage under the 12-storey Champlain Towers South building, and that "most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion" to ensure the safety of people living in the tower’s 136 condominium apartments.

However, while roof repairs were underway when the building’s northeast section collapsed at around 1.20am on 24 June, the recommended concrete restoration had not yet begun.

The warnings were contained in a report by structural engineers Morabito Consultants, which was retained in 2018 by the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association to prepare the 40-year Recertification of the building as required by local authorities. The tower and its twin to the north were built in 1981, and the recertification process due this year was meant to give buildings a clean structural bill of health.

After a report by The New York Times, the Town of Surfside released the report and related documentation on its website.

Morabito Consultants did not specifically warn owners of imminent collapse in 2018, but it said that failed waterproofing below the building’s pool deck and entrance drive was "causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas".

It further warned that failure to replace the waterproofing "in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially".

The problem, it said, was that the waterproofing in these areas had been laid on a flat structure, not a sloped one, allowing water to pool.

The report called this "a major error in the development of the original contract documents prepared by William M. Friedman & Associates Architects, Inc. and Breiterman Jurado & Associates, Consulting Engineers."

It noted that replacing the deck waterproofing would be "extremely expensive" and "create a major disturbance to the occupants of this condominium building".

In a statement on its website, Morabito Consultants said it had been retained again in June 2020 to prepare a "40-year Building Repair and Restoration" plan with detailed specifications for completing the necessary repairs and restoration work. 

It said: "We are deeply troubled by this building collapse and are working closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed. As we do so, we also continue to pray for all those impacted by this tragic event."

It said it would make no further comment until a full investigation into the cause of the collapse was complete.

Image: Remains of the Champlain Towers South building on 25 June 2021 (Miami-Dade Fire Rescue)

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