Four months after the Champlain Towers collapse ripped a hole in the Surfside skyline and left gaping wounds in the hearts of so many people, there are still no definitive answers to the main question: why did the building fall down?
“Did we see anything that was, helped us understand better why this building collapsed? And the answer is no, not yet, it’s all just visual stuff,” said structural engineer Allyn Kilsheimer.
Shortly after the calamity, the Town of Surfside hired Kilsheimer, a nationally-renowned expert, to investigate the collapse, but the county did not allow him on the site to conduct measurements and tests. The judge handling the case finally gave Kilsheimer limited accessibility last week, but it’s just a start.
“We don’t have the access to do the physical sampling and testing of the stuff on site and then taking those samples off-site,” Kilsheimer explained.
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He said his team completed its first full engineering model of the building’s superstructure, and they were able to use Lidar mounted on a drone to get precise measurements at the site.
“I think the results we’re gonna get might be useful but that’s unclear to me right now,” said Surfside mayor Charles Burkett.
Burkett said Kilsheimer’s current access to the site is an important first step but it comes with a price.
“It’s a little progress, I think what’s happened, though, it’s been homogenized, we’re basically in line with everybody else, and the results we were looking to get are not necessarily the results everybody else was looking to get,” Burkett said. “I think the attorneys that are involved are trying to find out who’s culpable, who’s responsible, as opposed to why the building fell down.”
Burkett says while Surfside is paying for Kilsheimer’s services, the attorneys representing private clients are going to benefit from Kilsheimer’s work, so it’s unfair that Surfside taxpayers are footing the entire bill.
Kilsheimer said in order to determine the cause of the collapse, whether it’s a building design flaw, construction flaws, improper maintenance, a geotechnical issue, or something else, he will need to be able to test pieces from the debris pile, and he has not yet been allowed to do that.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is conducting the official investigation. NIST has said it will take several years to determine the primary cause of the collapse.