In 1981, a group of developers opened the 136-unit Champlain Towers South, according to a certificate of occupancy. Soon, two smaller sister buildings would follow to the North.
An advertisement posted in the Miami Herald called it “elegant.” It was about to be a boom time in South Florida as money, tourists, and people flocked to develop along the ocean.
But raising up the building came with problems.
Documents NBC 6 obtained show the building permit was revoked midway through construction because developers wanted to build a 13th story for the penthouse. The developer later paid the town of Surfside $200,000 to help improve the sewer system.
They were eventually allowed to build the penthouse.
During construction, video captured the collapse of a crane. Newspapers at the time detailed how three people were injured.
SURFSIDE CONDO COLLAPSE
A study published last year in the journal Ocean and Coast Management by a Florida International University Professor showed the East side of the barrier island slowly sinking at a rate of one to three millimeters per year. However, the professor, in a recent news release, said settling alone would not cause a building collapse.
The sea level rise study was from FIU’s Institute of Environment. Professor Simon Shimon Wdowinski partnered with a professor from the University of Padua.
“When we measure subsidence or when we see movement of the buildings, it’s worth checking why it happens,” Wdowinski said. “We cannot say what is the reason for that from the satellite images but we can say there was movement here.”
More recent concerns emerged.
According to internal documents from the condo board, the garage, pool deck, and the planters were areas of concerns since before 2016.
"There is significant work to be done," the condo board wrote to residents in March 2016. That work included replacing 2,200 feet of drain, planter, and sewer pipes. It also included waterproofing the planters and removing up to 12 feet of roots at times when they were blocking pipes causing water to leak down and corrode the concrete. Experts told NBC 6 Investigators that repair work could have left the building vulnerable.
"Corrosion is a chemical process. Once it starts it can't be stopped. You can slow it down but you can't stop it," said Joel Figueroa-Vallines from SEP engineering consulting.
An engineering report by Morabito Consultants found “major structural damage” including a “major error” below the pool deck in the original design of a concrete slab. The slab wasn’t sloped so water could run off. Engineers also found “abundant cracking” in the parking garage and suggested around $9 million in work. “Sticker shock” is how one unit owner described it, according to minutes from a condo association meeting.
In a previous statement, the company, which is based near Baltimore, released a statement Saturday saying, "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,” adding it was “working closely with the investigating authorities to understand why the structure failed.”
The majority of the condo board would eventually resign and be replaced.
One month later, a Surfside building official, who is no longer with the city, assured residents the building was in “very good shape,” according to condo association minutes.
Two months after that, an association board member reached out to the same Surfside building official worried next door construction at Eighty Seven Park impacted their building.
“We have concerns regarding the structure of our building,” wrote the board member, adding pictures of the construction from the Surfside condo complex directly north.
The same day, the Surfside building official responded “there is nothing for me to check,” suggesting monitoring areas for damage or to hire a consultant to watch over.
Eighty Seven Park was developed by 8701 Collins Development LLC. A spokesperson previously told NBC 6 they had “no comment on communications that transpired between the Town of Surfside and residents of the neighboring property.”
In April this year, years after concerns were raised, the condo association president sent a letter to people living at Champlain Towers South. She warned the garage damage was getting “significantly worse” and without a planned $15 million special assessment to cover repairs the damage would get worse. The assessment could cost each unit owner more than $100,000.
In June, the association facing its 40-year recertification called on construction companies to bid on the project. The deadline to submit proposals was July 7.
The building collapsed in the early morning on June 24.
It’s important to note, the official cause of the collapse will likely take months to uncover. NBC 6 has spoken with many engineers and building officials about the events. Most of them said the wording in that 2018 report is not uncommon for buildings on the barrier island 40 years old.
One takeaway, they said, likely will be public officials, condo associations, and engineers will take similar warnings much more seriously.
The state of Florida leads the country in the number of condo units and the number of condo associations.
Editor’s note:This article has been updated to incorporate additional details of the history of Champlain Towers South.