Surfside condo collapse

Surfside Official Said Building Was in ‘Good Shape' Despite Engineer's Warning

In October 2018, the Champlain South Condominium Association had gotten some concerning news from the engineer it hired to conduct a field survey of the building

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The engineer’s report that in 2018 found “major structural damage” in Champlain Towers South apparently did not raise an alarm with the man in charge of Surfside’s Building Department at the time.

According to minutes from a condominium association meeting in November 2018, the town building official Ross Prieto, who has since left the position, told the community that night: “It appears the building is in very good shape.”

In October 2018, the Champlain South Condominium Association had gotten 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, was 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.

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.

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.

When asked about the November 2018 board meeting and Prieto’s comments, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, who was not in office then, said he had no idea. 

“I wasn’t there, you know. I was there before and I came after but I wasn’t there for that but I tell you what we are doing. I've asked our clerk and our attorney and our city manager to dig out every piece of correspondence related to that building and put it on our website,” Burkett said. 

NBC 6 Investigators have reviewed more records including years of condo association records and found engineers from Morabito Consultants’ estimate in 2018 that more than $9 million in repairs was then necessary did not sit well with some owners.

“Sticker shock” is how one described it, according to the records reviewed by NBC 6.

Six of seven board members soon resigned and a reexamination of Morabito’s findings began entertaining proposals from others. But eventually wound up back with Morabito Consultants in 2020.

By then, 20 months had passed and the price for that work and additional projects had grown to $15 million, costing each owner an average of $110,000 over 15 years in a special assessment that was to begin last week. 

NBC 6 made multiple attempts to reach Prieto via email and the phone numbers available. But we have not been able to reach him. He previously told the Miami Herald he didn’t remember getting the report and declined to comment about the November 2018 board meeting citing the advice of an attorney.  

A city of Doral spokesperson told NBC 6 Prieto is an employee of a city’s contactor that assists with “Building Department’s services.” In a statement, she said Prieto was assigned to the city of Doral to serve as the temporary Building official. But the city was notified Monday he was on a leave of absence and the contractor assigned another employee to assist the city’s Building department on a temporary basis.

Morabito Consultants, who is based near Baltimore and has 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."

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

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