Surfside condo collapse

2018 Engineering Report Found ‘Major Structural Damage' In Now-Collapsed Condo

Issues identified years ago were part of bid package sent to general contractors this month for concrete repair work.

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In October 2018, the Champlain South Condominium Association got some concerning news from the engineer it hired to conduct a field survey of the building: "failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage" to concrete below the pool deck and a planter in an area that was not draining properly.

The report, from Morabito Consultants, is included in hundreds of pages the Town of Surfside released last Friday in response to public records requests from media, including the NBC 6 Investigators.

Also, in the documents was an inspection report submitted by Morabito to the town more than 16 hours after the collapse, a document the town noted was "unverified" and "not formally submitted or authorized by the property owner Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, Inc.," as required by Miami-Dade County Code.

The unverified inspection report describes an inspection completed Sept. 2, 2018 and describes all aspects of the "general alignment" of the structure as "good" -- the best possible rating.

"Existing slabs appear to be adequate to accommodate building and plaza thermal and moisture/volume effects," the submission to the Surfside building department states.

Morabito Consultants, based near Baltimore, who completed the inspection and report in 2018, released a statement Saturday that, "Among other things, our report detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public."

According to the statement, the company was reengaged in June 2020 to "prepare a "40-year Building and Repair and Restoration" plan with detailed specifications for completing the necessary repairs and restoration work."

The company also stated that they provide exclusively engineering consulting services, but not construction-related services like repair or contracting.

In its Oct. 8, 2018 report to the association, the engineering firm pointed out several deficiencies uncovered by its field survey, stating "the main issue with this building structure (involves) the entrance drive/pool deck /planter" area on the north side of that deck.

That is the same area where video of Thursday morning's collapse shows the first signs of a structural failure, with the center section of the north wing collapsing onto the deck near the planter and into the garage entrance below.

Those 12 stories separated from a sheer wall built around the elevators and staircase to the west and from two lines of oceanfront units to the east, which sway slightly for about seven seconds before collapsing in a pancake fashion.

A structural engineer who reviewed the report Saturday told NBC 6 the extent of concrete deterioration in the 2018 report would not explain in and of itself why the building collapsed. Several engineers describe what happened in Surfside Thursday as a "unique" event that likely was the result of two or more contributing factors.

A lawyer for the association said it is getting preliminary indications the triggering event was "most likely a subsurface problem."

Engineers tell NBC6 shifting ground, changes in water table levels and other factors could have weakened pilings that were pounded into the sand and limestone 40 years ago.

But the 2018 report did not describe any signs of that.

Instead, the most serious observations started with the planter and pool deck and moved to the garage level below.

"The waterproofing below the Pool Deck & Entrance Drive as well as all of the planter waterproofing is beyond it useful life and therefore must all be completely removed and replaced," the engineer wrote. "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 "main issue" with the structure is that "waterproofing is laid on a flat structure. Since the reinforced concrete slab is not sloped to drain, the water sits on the waterproofing until it evaporates. This is a major error in the development of the original contract documents," the letter to the association stated.

Two contractors tell NBC6 the association did seek to obtain bids for concrete repair after the 2018 inspection and report, but did not end up executing a contract with any firm.

In its letter, Morabito recommended "entrance/pool deck concrete slabs that are showing distress be removed and replaced in their entirety."

Morabito informed the association "replacement of the existing deck waterproofing will be extremely expensive … will take time, be disruptive and create a major disturbance to the occupants of this condominium building."

Morabito Consultants' 2018 estimate of the probable construction cost for the work it was recommending was $9.1 million dollars. $3.8 million for the garage, entrance and pool deck remediation portion.

But if the owners were putting off the repairs, they could do so no more as the 40-year recertification process approached.

The latest bid package -- which addressed all the 2018 concerns and much more -- was distributed to five invited bidders earlier this month.

Their bids were due on July 7.

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