Curt Anderson and Bernard Condon
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Nearly three years before an oceanfront building collapsed near Miami, an engineering firm estimated that major repairs the building needed would cost more than $9 million, according to newly released emails.
The email from the firm of Morabito Consultants was among a series of documents released by the city of Surfside as rescue efforts continued at the site of the collapsed building, where more than 150 people remained unaccounted for. At least five people were killed in the collapse.
The release of the 2018 cost estimate followed the earlier publication of another document from the firm showing the ground-floor pool deck of the building was resting on a concrete slab that had "major structural damage" and needed to be extensively repaired. That report also uncovered "abundant cracking and spalling" of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.
The report did not warn of imminent danger from the damage, and it is unclear if any of the damage observed was responsible for the collapse of Champlain Towers South.
The cost estimate showed that repairs across the entire building would cost more than $9.1 million, with the cost of work at the garage, entrance and pool deck alone accounting for more than $3.8 million. The work had not been done by the time the building collapsed.
The earlier report said the waterproofing under the pool deck had failed and had been improperly laid flat instead of sloped, preventing water from draining off.
"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 report said.
The firm recommended that the damaged slabs be replaced in what would be a major repair.
Some of the damage to the concrete in the parking garage was minor, while other columns had exposed and deteriorating rebar. It also noted that many of the building's previous attempts to fix the columns and other damage with epoxy were marred by poor workmanship and were failing.
Beneath the pool deck "where the slab had been epoxy-injected, new cracks were radiating from the originally repaired cracks," the report said.
These were all problems that should have been dealt with quickly, said Gregg Schlesinger, an attorney specializing in construction defects and a former construction project engineer.
"The building speaks to us. It is telling us we have a serious problem," Schlesinger said in a telephone interview Saturday about the new documents. "They (building managers) kicked the can down the road. The maintenance was improper. These were all red flags that needed to be addressed. They weren't."
In a statement Saturday, Morabito Consultants confirmed its report "detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public."
The firm said it was hired again in June 2020 by Champlain Towers South to begin the 40-year recertification process that would detail what work needed to be done.
"At the time of the building collapse, roof repairs were under way, but concrete restoration had not yet begun," the statement said.
Abi Aghayere, a Drexel University engineering researcher, said the extent of the damage shown in the engineering report was notable. In addition to possible problems under the pool, he said several areas above the entrance drive showing signs of deterioration were worrisome and should have been repaired immediately.
"Were the supporting members deteriorated to the extent that a critical structural element or their connections failed leading to progressive collapse?" he wrote in an email to the AP after reviewing the report. "Were there other areas in the structure that were badly deteriorated and unnoticed?"
The building was in the midst of its 40-year recertification process, which requires detailed structural and electrical inspections. In an interview Friday, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he wasn't sure if the inspection had been completed, but he said it may contain vital clues.
"It should have been a very straightforward thing," Burkett said. "Buildings in America do not just fall down like this. There is a reason. We need to find out what that reason is."
The 12-story tower's collapse Thursday morning has also raised questions over whether other similar buildings are in danger.
"This is a wake-up call for folks on the beach," Schlesinger said. "The scary portion is the other buildings. You think this is unique? No."
Details of the building's 40-year recertification inspection will be made public once they are completed, Surfside Town Clerk Sandra McCready said in an email.
The collapse is already drawing lawsuits, including one filed hours after the collapse by attorney Brad Sohn against the condo's homeowners association seeking damages for negligence and other reasons for all of the tower's residents.
The association, the lawsuit contends, "could have prevented the collapse of Champlain Towers South through the exercise of ordinary care, safety measures and oversight."
An attorney for the association, Ken Direktor, did not respond to an email requesting comment.