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Why did the Miami Surfside building collapse? Inspection reports differ

Surfside city official told Champlain Towers housing association board that building was in “good shape” contradicting evaluation performed a month earlier.

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Why did the Miami Surfside building collapse? Inspection reports differ
GIORGIO VIERA AFP

Built in 1981, the Champlain Towers South was required to perform a 40-year recertification under state law by 2021. The condo association got a head start on the process starting in 2018 hiring consultants and talking with the city. Despite the warnings in the engineering consultant's report, the city official who met with the condo association board said the building was “in very good shape.”

The Champlain Tower South Condominium Association met with Rosendo “Ross” Prieto, the chief building official for the town of Surfside until last year, who according to minutes from the meeting, first reported by NPR, indicated that he had read the report describing the structural integrity of the building performed the month before. During the meeting he told those present that engineering report had all the pertinent information and "It appears the building is in very good shape," as written in the minutes.

Surfside Mayor previously said engineering report most likely hadn’t been read

The minutes from the 15 November meeting contradict statements made on Saturday by Mayor Charles Burkett saying that the report was likely not read. Although Burkett was re-elected in 2020 had served as mayor previously, but was not the mayor in 2018. He told reporters that the city did have the technical assessments for the building that were done in October 2018, a month before Mr Prieto met with the condo association and interested residents about the 40-year recertification and work that would need to be done.

In an email posted by the city, Mr Prieto the morning after the meeting wrote to then-town manager Guillermo Olmedillo to report on the meeting where he said that “it went very well” and “the response was very positive from everyone in the room.” Adding “All main concerns over their forty year recertification process were addressed.”

He praised the condo association for getting a head start on the 40-year recertification process saying “I wholeheartedly endorse and wish that this trend would catch on with other properties.”

Engineering report found “major structural damage”

The condo association hired Morabito Consultants to do a structural engineering report in preparation for the recertification process. In his report, Frank Morabito did not indicate that the building was at risk of imminent collapse but he did point out “abundant” cracking and crumbling of varying degrees in the columns, beams and walls in the parking garage, seen as one of the potential spots where the structure failed.

He also pointed out that the concrete slabs below the pool deck, entrance to the garage and planters were experiencing “major structural damage” with the rebar exposed in some locations. The report found that the waterproofing in those areas needed to be completely replaced having exceeded its life span. Failed waterproofing was causing the damage. “Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the report reads.

This report and a report on the inspection of the electrical and mechanical systems were emailed to Mr Prieto two days prior to the November meeting by Mara Chouela a condo board member. Mr Prieto talking to the Miami Herald doesn’t recall having received the email and would not comment on the board meeting citing advice from his attorney.