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Firm held off on repairs because of stability issues in months before Surfside building collapse


By Eliott C. McLaughlin, Alta Spells and Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman, CNN

An engineering firm hired for Champlain Towers South‘s milestone recertification found “deep” concrete deterioration near the pool but couldn’t perform repairs, in part, because of concerns about stability, according to an October letter.

Maryland-based Morabito Consultants also was hamstrung because it needed access to the inside of the pool, which “was to remain in service for the duration of this work,” the firm said in its letter.

Morabito also directed Concrete Protection & Restoration Inc. to perform “exploratory demolition” in five areas on the building’s first floor, and CPR found “some curious results as it pertained to the structural slab’s depth,” the letter said, without elaborating.

The nine-page letter summarizing the work, which was addressed to condominium association board president Jean Wodnicki and property manager Scott Stewart, is yet another indication of problems with the building’s concrete. The concrete in the pool and underground garage area is increasingly becoming a focus as engineers and government officials work to learn what caused the deadly June 24 partial collapse in Surfside, Florida.

Still, there’s no indication thus far that concrete deterioration played a role in the collapse, but several engineers have told CNN that it’s one of multiple factors to consider in investigating the disaster.

Morabito inspected Champlain Towers South in 2018 as part of the building’s 40-year recertification — a stringent process for upgrades and improvements enacted after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The firm found that failed waterproofing beneath the pool deck caused “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab” and warned of rapid deterioration if it wasn’t promptly replaced, according to its report.

In April, Wodnicki warned residents that “the concrete deterioration is accelerating,” with some areas having gotten worse since the 2018 inspection. Wodnicki’s letter outlined millions in repairs that the condo association later approved.

The 2018 report did not indicate the structure was at risk of collapsing, nor did Wodnicki’s letter to residents.

In the October letter, Morabito said repair work could not be done because it would “affect the stability of the remaining adjacent concrete constructions.” The firm did not specify which “adjacent concrete constructions” might be destabilized, and it’s unclear if the engineers meant nearby buildings or other structures within Champlain Towers South. But the firm noted concrete deterioration deep within the pool’s wall and corbel, a type of support structure, requiring “aggressive excavation of concrete.”

Morabito and Concrete Protection & Restoration removed loose concrete from the perimeter of the pool pump room, which was showing signs of cracking and which presented “a fall hazard,” the October letter said.

As for the unspecified “curious results” of the excavation work, Morabito requested “that additional core work be performed by CPR to confirm/clear-up said results,” Morabito said in the letter.

Among other work done, according to the letter: CPR replaced the bottom of a deteriorating stair column base with hollow steel structural sections; conducted exploratory demolition on the underside of an eave that required “removal and reconstruction”; and removed all loose “cracked, spalled, deteriorated, and delaminated concrete” and damaged stucco from the underside of balcony eaves on 114 of the building’s 136 units, the letter said.

Morabito Consultants did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the letter, but it has defended its work at the tower in previous statements. Attempts to reach CPR, Wodnicki and Stewart, the property manager, were unsuccessful.

The full scope of the concrete work needed at Champlain Towers South remains unclear, as does the specific work contracted to Morabito Consultants and CPR. Whether the work had been scheduled or was under way is also unknown.

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