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Florida Residents Complained About Champlain Towers Development Two Years Before Collapse

Two and a half years before the Champlain Towers South building collapsed in Florida, residents were complaining that the buildings were being developed too closely together and didn’t seem safe. 

“We are concerned that the construction next to Surfside is too close. Workers were digging too close to our property and we have concerns regarding the structure of our building. There’s construction equipment directly across from our building’s property wall,” resident Mara Chouela, who is also a board member of the condo association, wrote in a January 2019 email to a building official.

Rosendo Prieto was the official responsible for sorting through complaints made by the condo association at the time. 30 minutes after Chouela sent the initial email, Prieto responded that there was nothing that needed to be checked. He reasoned that “the offending development, an ultra-luxury tower known as Eighty Seven Park, was directly across the border separating the town of Surfside from the city of Miami Beach, which runs between the two buildings. 

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Now, after the Champlain Towers South collapse, Eighty Seven Park is facing even more scrutiny over the construction of these buildings. In fact, Champlain residents often complained that all the construction from the neighboring buildings continuously caused their units to shake.

“The construction of 87 Park did not cause or contribute to the collapse that took place in Surfside. But the 18-story tower would not have been allowed to be built across the border in Surfside, where buildings are subject to a 12-story height limit (although Champlain Towers itself received an exemption in the 1980s to add nine extra feet),” The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Maggie Ramsey is a Florida resident whose mother is among the unaccounted for Champlain residents, and she claims her mother had been concerned about the work being done next door for weeks now. 

“She did complain of a lot of tremors and things that were being done to the other building that she sometimes was concerned about what may be happening to her building, and if she was at risk.” 

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Peter Dyga, the president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, said that “the likelihood of the Eighty Seven Park construction being a significant cause in the Surfside collapse is slim, but no lead or idea should be excluded.”

“There’s probably going to be multiple things in the end that have contributed in some way or another. Still, buildings are built next to buildings all the time, and it doesn’t mean that they come down.”

Records also show that Champlain South residents have sent a series of angry emails to Terra Group, the developers behind Eighty Seven Park, complaining about construction debris, noise, and lack of action. 

“I am shocked and disappointed to see the lack of consideration and respect that Terra has shown our residents. You have said you want to be a good neighbor… This is truly outrageous and quite unprecedented from what we hear from other associations in the area that have dealt with construction beside them,” Anette Goldstein, a condo board member, wrote to executives with the developer. 

Miami Condo

Area Expert Explains Possible Causes Of Miami Condominium Collapse 

A major condominium complex collapsed in Surfside, Florida this Thursday, leaving one dead and over 100 individuals missing. Miami-Dade County authorities are currently investigating the Champlain Towers South Condo specifically to try to figure out what exactly caused the collapse. 

While the official cause has yet to be determined, an area expert has compiled a list of possible reasons that this building collapsed and shared it with the media. Gary Slossberg is the founder of the South Florida construction company, National Home Building And Remodeling Corp. 

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“In a general way, there are many things that could happen. Construction defects or engineering defects. I’m not suggesting there were any construction or engineering defects, but simply pointing out the possibility. I think there is some value, and it makes some sense to do periodic inspections,” he explained.

Engineering inspections happen every five to ten years normally, and these inspections typically involve removing drywall or other external materials so that experts can inspect the steel beams or structural aspects of a building to make sure they’re not eroding away. 

Slossberg also explained that the “salt in Miami’s coastal air could potentially facilitate the erosion of steel, and evidence of that could appear in the form of rust stains or exposed rebar, which is like a cancer for a building, by the time you see it, it could be too late.” 

“While salt can have a severe impact on coastal buildings, I’m not sure how long it would actually take for salt to completely erode a building’s materials to the point of collapse.” 

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Solssberg also suggested “if the building were constructed with a post-tension slab, or a concrete slab that has cables running through it, and one of those cables came loose, that could have led to its destruction. It could take down a whole building.” 

The condominium was built in 1981, back when Florida and Miami-Dade County specifically had completely different construction codes. 

“With every hurricane, new construction codes come out. New engineering codes…This is 40 years later [since the building was constructed]. The codes have changed at least a dozen times. I know they have. So, some of these older buildings are not really built to withstand the type of same weather conditions as when they were built originally.”

Another possibility, he said, is that the “building’s balconies may have had some constructional issues. Many Miami-area buildings are built with concrete balconies that are back-pitched, meaning they don’t allow water to escape properly after it rains.” 

“There’s a lot of concrete restoration going on, and this is where you see a lot of that rust and rebar coming through the slab between the water sitting there and the salt air — it’s just not a good combination,” he said.

“But again, I don’t know if that would take down the whole building. We just still don’t know what happened.”