Surfside condo collapse

‘Significant Work to Be Done' Years Before Condo Collapse

NBC 6 reviewed communications between the condo association board, residents, and staff that experts say could point to large contributing factors of the eventual collapse.

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More than 2,200 pipes in need of removing and replacing. Overgrown plant roots running through pipes over the garage. Planters not waterproofed for the wet Florida weather.

Records obtained by NBC 6 Investigators detail the cycle of damage, repair, and more damage at Champlain Towers South over the past five years.

Authorities confirmed 22 people died when the condo partially collapsed last week and 126 are still unaccounted for.

NBC 6 reviewed communications between the condo association board, residents, and staff that experts say could point to large contributing factors of the eventual collapse.

On March 31, 2016, the condo association board told residents they “acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed by residents over the years with leaking pipes in the garage.” They would soon audit the pipes and begin replacing ones “in most critical need of change.”

According to the board, corrosion led to water leaking through the concrete onto vehicles, at times blocking the actual flow of the pipe by “30% or 40%.” Residents were advised to put towels or tarps on their vehicles in the meantime. 

“There is significant work to be done,” the condo association wrote to residents, adding the repairs would be paid for by the association’s reserve funds for plumbing. 

The total work would replace 2,234 linear feet of piping: 253 feet of storm drainage pipes, 1,108 feet of planter pipes, and 873 feet of sewer pipes. 

A spokesperson for the condo association would not comment on these repairs but told NBC 6, over the years, they used multiple experts to address the concerns of residents and at no point were told the building was in imminent threat of collapse. The spokesperson would not confirm who did these repairs.

While the pipes’ work was in progress, Hurricane Irma hit South Florida. 

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On Nov. 10, 2017, two months after Irma, the association notified residents of more water issues. This time, the issues were related to the planters.

“As anyone who has been in the garage can attest to, there is significant water intrusion that comes from the planters which we all see at street level,” the association wrote. 

Most of the planters were never waterproofed at all, they added.  

“Root systems from plants and palms inside planters have become so overgrown and strong over the many years that they have invaded the actual pipes that run between the ground level and the garage,” board members wrote in an email to residents. “At times roots were twelve feet into the pipes entirely filling the inside radius of the pipes.”

“This causes pipes to crack and results in water dripping down on vehicles and into the garage,” the email stated. “This is a very significant problem which we cannot ignore. This is a problem that has been developing for many years.” 

Joel Figueroa-Vallines, the president and executive principal of SEP Engineers, reviewed the notices from the condo board citing the repairs with NBC 6 Investigators. He said the collapse likely came from several elements but the information detailed in the announcements could show large contributing factors. 

“From reviewing it, it seems that way. It seems from a water standpoint, it’s seen some challenges,” Figueroa-Vallines said.

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Too much wear and tear over the years in the same area, he said, could create a vulnerable structure. 

“Corrosion is a chemical process. Once it starts it can’t be stopped. You can slow it down but you can’t stop it,” Figueroa-Vallines said. 

The work seemed to be completed by early 2018 when the association hired Morabito Consultants to review the building ahead of their 40-year recertification with the town of Surfside. 

Engineers from Morabito did not bring back wanted results, noting in a 2018 report “major structural damage, “poor workmanship” in the garage and repairs that “were ineffective.” 

Brett Marcy, a spokesperson for Morabito Consultants, wouldn’t comment on prior repairs that were done at the building. But told NBC 6 the company was not contracted to work for Champlain Towers South prior to 2018.

In a previous statement to NBC 6, the company wrote, “Our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public,” referring to the 2018 report.

The town of Surfside, the Miami-Dade State Attorney, and the Federal government are currently investigating the building collapse.

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