Surfside condo official raised red flag about repairs 3 days before deadly collapse

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Just three days before the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Florida, the condo building manager reportedly accused the town of Surfside of “holding up” urgent renovations and repairs.

“As we are out to bid on our project [we] need to get to answers to these questions,” Scott Stewart reportedly wrote the town building official on June 21, the Miami Herald reported, citing emails it obtained between the the condo board members and the building department.

“This is holding us up and cost [sic] are going up and out [sic] 40 year is coming up fast.”

In another email to the town that day, Stewart described $11 million in urgent work — including the removal of all pool deck tile on “existing concrete surface” and “repair damaged concrete.”

Stewart’s desperate email came after Frank Morabito — an engineer hired by Champlain Towers in 2018 to to conduct a survey of the doomed structure — met with town building officials about a month earlier on May 13 to discuss the extensive renovation plans.

Morabito and condo board members finally had the meeting after more than a week of sending unanswered emails, according to records cited by the Herald, which said the engineer also followed up in an email a week after the meeting.

In his email to town planner Walter Keller, Morabito requested the municipality to approve plans to make the necessary space for the construction crews and equipment so the association could move forward with bidding the $16 million repair job.

“It is [Champlain Tower South’s] desire to go out to bid for our 40-year recertification work ASAP and need the Town of Surfside input on this request so everyone has a clear understanding on how this project will be accomplished,” Morabito reportedly wrote, according to the Herald.

“As such, we respectfully request that we hear from the Town in the near future so we can make any necessary revisions to our contract drawings and submit same to the Town for permit review/approval,” he said.

In 2018, Champlain Towers hired Morabito to assess the building, which was built in 1981, in preparation for a 40-year safety recertification.

The engineer prescribed millions of dollars in repairs, the most significant of which were to correct a “major error” to the pool deck, and fix the damage it had caused to the underlying structural slab.

But an April letter from condo board President Jean Wodnicki reportedly warned the residents that the “observable damage such as in the garage” had gotten “significantly worse” since the 2018 inspection. Repairs needed to be made urgently, she wrote.

“The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated,” she wrote in the April 9 letter.

Wodnicki added: “When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface.”

On June 23, just 14 hours before the building crumbled, building department chief James McGuinness finally responded to Stewart and Morabito, saying he needed more information — including a site plan for the temporary lot, details about fencing and a description of how Champlain Towers would “prevent the site from becoming a dust bowl or a mud bowl,” the Herald reported.

The condo then collapsed in the early hours of June 24. As of Sunday, the death toll stood at 24, with 124 people still unaccounted for.

In a statement to the paper, Town Manager Andrew Hyatt insisted the plans submitted by the condo association in May were marked “preliminary” and much of it appeared to be “outside the scope of any proposed 40-year re-certification work.”

“There was no indication during any communications between the Town and the association by telephone or electronic mail that this submission required emergency action by the Town of Surfside,” Hyatt told the Herald.

“The scope of work for repairs was not received until June 21, 2021, and not in the form of a building application. To date, no permit application for these specific repairs has been received by the Town,” he added.

Condo association reps did not immediately respond to the Herald’s request for comment.

A rep for Morabito did not immediately respond to the paper’s request for comment.

“Morabito Consultants was retained in 2018 by the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association to prepare the 40-year Recertification of the condo building, as required by Miami-Dade County and the Town of Surfside,” said a June 26 statement from Morabito Consultants, two days after the catastrophe.

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