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Before Florida building collapse, more than US$9 million in repairs needed

Before Florida building collapse, more than US$9 million in repairs needed

Workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo on Jun 26, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. (Photo: AP/Gerald Herbert)

SURFSIDE: Almost three years ago, owners in a Florida oceanfront condominium building that collapsed with deadly consequences learned it would cost at least US$9 million for major repairs, with their shared bill coming due Jul 1.

That estimate, from the Morabito Consultants engineering firm in October 2018, meant owners at Champlain Towers South were facing payments of anywhere from US$80,000 for a one-bedroom unit to US$300,000 or so for a penthouse.

One resident whose apartment was spared, Adalberto Aguero, had just taken out a loan to cover his US$80,000 bill.

“I figured I would pay it off after they fixed the building. I didn’t want to pay if off before because you never know,” said Aguero, adding that he pulled paperwork for the loan a day after Thursday’s collapse. “I said cancel everything.”

An itemised bill sent by the condo board in April to owners of the building's 136 units showed that much of the planned work was in the pool area and the facade. Installing new pavers and waterproofing the pool deck and building entrance would cost US$1.8 million, with another US$1 million going to “structural repairs” and “planter landscaping,” according to a condo board email obtained by The Associated Press. A line item of “miscellaneous repairs” that included work on the garage was estimated to cost US$280,000.

Total costs assessed, including many items that appeared to be for aesthetic purpose: US$15 million.

READ: Families frustrated by slow pace of Florida condo collapse rescue

Engineers and construction experts say the Morabito documents focused on structural work and make clear there were several major repairs that needed to be done as soon as possible. Other than some roof repairs, that work had not begun, officials said.

The cost estimate emailed by Morabito Consultants to Surfside officials was among a series of documents released as rescue efforts continued at the site of the collapsed building, where more than 150 people remained unaccounted for. At least nine people were killed in the collapse, authorities said Sunday.

Another 2018 Morabito report submitted to the city said waterproofing under the pool deck had failed and had been improperly laid flat instead of sloped, preventing water from draining off.

“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.

The firm recommended that the damaged slabs be replaced in what would be a major repair.

South Florida Urban Search and Rescue team look for survivors at the 12-story oceanfront condo, Champlain Towers South on Jun 26, 2021 that partially collapsed early Thursday morning in the Surfside area of Miami. (Photo: Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)

That came as news to Susana Alvarez, who lived on the 10th floor of the doomed tower and said a Surfside official assured residents in a 2018 meeting that there was no danger. It wasn't clear who that official was.

“The Town of Surfside told us the building was not in bad shape. That is what they said,” Alvarez said on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition program. “No one ever told us that building was in such bad shape.”

An attorney for the Champlain Towers South condominium association, which was in charge of the repair work, did not immediately respond Sunday to an email seeking comment. Surfside officials also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The Morabito firm said in a statement that it was hired in June 2020 by Champlain Towers South to begin the 40-year recertification process required of all buildings in Miami-Dade County that reach that age. The Champlain building was constructed in 1981.

“At the time of the building collapse, roof repairs were under way, but concrete restoration had not yet begun,” the statement said.

Surfside has hired Allyn Kilsheimer of KCE Structural Engineers to consult on the Champlain Towers disaster. Surfside officials say Kilsheimer has worked on numerous such cases, including the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks and the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University.

READ: Israeli, Mexican rescuers bring distinct experience to Miami building collapse

Stephanie Walkup, an engineering professor at Villanova University, said it will take time to pinpoint the cause - or series of causes - that brought down Champlain Towers South.

“The ultimate cause of the collapse may have been related to design error, construction error, deterioration or other event,” Walkup said in an email.

“We all want answers and engineers will want to learn from this collapse as we have others, but we want to make sure we have the right ones,” she added.

Source: AP/ec

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