Surfside condo president’s April letter warned of more repairs required

Damage had gotten “significantly worse” since 2018 inspection, letter states

The partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building (Getty)
The partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building (Getty)

UPDATED, June 29, 10:35 p.m.: The condo board sent a letter to unit owners of the Champlain Towers South in April cautioning the importance of major repairs, mere months before the oceanfront portion of the Surfside condo tower collapsed, trapping more than 150 people.

The letter, signed by condo board president Jean Wodnicki, detailed extensive work the Champlain Towers South required to complete its 40-year recertification. The condo association had hired engineer Frank Morabito to assess the 12-story, 136-unit building in 2018 and rehired him more recently. The project was expected to cost unit owners more than $15 million.

Wodnicki wrote that since the building received an engineer’s report in 2018 detailing major issues, the “observable damage” including damage in the underground garage “has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection.”

“Please note that the original scope of work in the 2018 report has expanded. The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated,” Wodnicki wrote in the letter, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by,” she added in her letter. “But this is where we are now.”

Morabito’s structural field survey report, dated October 2018, found that failed waterproofing was causing “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and entrance drive. At that time, a Surfside official assured unit owners at a condo board meeting that their oceanfront tower was in “very good shape,” according to meeting minutes the town of Surfside made public.

The underground garage appears to have caved first, causing a pancake effect when the building collapsed last week. To date, 12 people are confirmed dead and 149 are unaccounted for, as search and rescue operations continue.

It’s unclear why repairs to the building were not completed between 2018 and this year. The building had hired a contractor to start a re-roof in April and was seeking bids for the concrete and waterproofing work. A committee had recommended Morabito to oversee the work, and Scott Stewart had been selected as the property manager, Wodnicki wrote.

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Morabito had also completed a more detailed survey of the property. As a result, the association had the balconies checked and an “initial exploration of the concrete and driveway soffit” was bid out and completed in 2020, according to Wodnicki’s letter.

The biggest component of the needed repairs involved the concrete and waterproofing. Wodnicki wrote that the board hoped to conclude bidding for that work at a June 8 meeting.

Stewart and the association’s attorney, Donna Berger, did not respond to requests for comment.

In his report completed in late 2018, Morabito pointed to the original building plans that were prepared by William M. Friedman & Associates Architects and Breiterman Jurado & Associates, Consulting Engineers in 1979. Champlain Towers South was completed in 1981. The same development team, including developer Nathan Reiber, built three Champlain towers in the area.

Morabito wrote that the reinforced concrete slab that was not sloped downward to drain water was a “major error” in the design, as it allowed water to pool and wear on the waterproofing.

In a statement issued over the weekend, Morabito Consultants said the cracks and breaks in the concrete detailed in that report “required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public.”

At the end of her letter, Wodnicki acknowledged that, “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.”