- Documents obtained by NPR and CNN reveal residents and the board in Surfside were fighting for months over repairs.
- A 2018 report found “major structural damage” in the building, prompting talk of an extensive repair project.
- By 2020, the cost of the project had jumped from an estimated $9 million to more than $12 million.
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Less than a year before the Champlain Towers South building collapsed, residents of the 12-story Surfside apartment and the building’s condominium association board were fighting over the cost of necessary repairs, according to documents obtained by NPR and CNN.
Since the apartment complex collapsed last month, leaving at least 28 dead and more than 100 still missing, an ever-growing list of red flags that plagued the building before its downfall has emerged, as the community searches for answers.
In several presentations given during the fall and winter of 2020, residents and the board were shown a series of PowerPoint slides detailing the urgent need for expensive repairs, with one slide explaining, “WHY WE HAVE TO DO ALL THIS NOW,” according to NPR.
During one presentation, attendees were told the building’s garage had “very poor drainage (design flaw),” CNN reported.
“There is no waterproofing layer over the garage in the driveway or any area except the pool deck and planters. This has exposed the garage to water intrusion for 40 years. Where there is waterproofing, it has failed. Water has gotten underneath and caused additional damage to the concrete,” a presentation from October 2020 said, according to CNN.
Another slide warned, “This Will Be Expensive No Matter What Choices We Make. The main expenses by far are related to items that are not cosmetic or even seen: concrete, roof, generator room, fire wall,” NPR reported.
It was not clear who delivered the presentations, but according to CNN, some of the slides listed an official with the building’s management as a point of contact.
Arguments over the repairs stemmed from a 2018 report that found signs of “major structural damage” in the complex.
Documents released by the town of Surfside, Florida reveal an engineering consultant, Frank Morabito, found evidence of “abundant” cracking and fragmentation of the columns, beams, and walls in the garage in October 2018, Morabito also noted hairline cracking on the balcony structural floor slabs and splintering in the concrete columns and exterior walls.
Morabito advised that the complex’s crumbling concrete be repaired in a “timely fashion” to maintain the “structural integrity” of the building.
The results of the inspection spurred plans for an extensive repair project, but between 2018 and 2020, the estimated cost of the repairs jumped from $9 million to more than $12 million, NPR reported. According to the outlet, the board suggested taking out a $15 million line of credit to manage the repairs, suggesting condo residents would be responsible for footing their share of the bill at about $100,000 each.
Residents were reportedly frustrated with their options, which included a vote to increase monetary reserves.
One slide obtained by NPR read: “Complaining Or Shouting At Each Other Doesn’t Work! Voting Is The Best Way To Understand What The Majority Wants.”
By the fall of 2019, five of the board’s seven members, including the president at the time, had resigned over in-fighting regarding the necessary fixes, The Washington Post previously reported.
In an April 2021 letter, then-condo board president Jean Wonicki warned conditions in the building’s basement garage had gotten “significantly worse” since the 2018 inspection, acknowledging that discussions about repairs had stretched on for years.