Miami-Area Condo Board President Warned of Need for Repairs in April Letter - WSJ

SURFSIDE, Fla.—The president of the Champlain South Towers condo association told residents in April their building was in desperate disrepair and urged them to pay the $15 million in assessments needed to fix structural problems, in a letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The condo board president, Jean Wodnicki wrote that the concrete damage to the building would “multiply exponentially over the years, and indeed the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse over the years.”

The purpose of the letter, dated April 9, 2021, was to explain to residents the worthiness of the construction projects for the 40-year-old building ahead of the following week’s meeting about a proposed special assessment of $15 million to be paid by residents.

Florida buildings are required to be recertified for electrical and structural safety after 40 years, and the building had begun that process.

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Ms. Wodnicki explained in the letter that an engineer, Frank Morabito, was hired in 2018 to do an inspection of the building and provide an estimate of what would be required for the 40-year inspection, which was due later this year. The initial inspection from 2018 wasn’t enough to determine the full structural problems of the building, and they could be far worse, she wrote.

“It is impossible to know the extent of the damage to the underlying rebar until the concrete is opened up. Oftentimes the damage is more extensive than can be determined by inspection of the surface,” she wrote.

“When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface,” Ms. Wodnicki wrote. “The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated.”

Ms. Wodnicki didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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The letter states that Frank Morabito was newly rehired as the supervising engineer for the construction project.

Brett Marcy, the representative for Morabito Consultants, said the firm’s 2018 report had said that some repairs needed to be made “in the near future.” Also, although the board voted to hire Mr. Morabito as the engineering consultant for the construction work in 2019, the long contracting process to get Mr. Morabito fully signed on delayed the roofing work until the end of 2020, he said.

An attorney for the condo association, Donna DiMaggio Berger, told the Journal Sunday that the 2018 engineer’s report was fairly routine and didn’t raise alarms. “Concrete spalling, rebar deterioration—these are not unusual events when you have buildings exposed to corrosive conditions,” Ms. Berger said.

She wasn’t immediately available for comment Monday.

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Officials said they are focusing on finding survivors, while simultaneously preserving evidence and preparing for an investigation into the cause of a structural collapse of historic proportions. It is rare because it doesn’t appear to have been prompted by outside dynamics, such as a natural disaster, and potentially reflects the failure of multiple systems within the building all at once, engineers said.

The federal government has deployed investigators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce that investigated the collapse of the twin towers following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

“A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by. But this is where we are now,” added Ms. Wodnicki. “We have discussed, debated, and argued for years now, and will continue to do so for years to come as different items come into play.”

Write to Deborah Acosta at deborah.acosta@wsj.com

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