The causes of the Champlain Towers South collapse will be under investigation for years. The official National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report is scheduled to be substantially completed in late June of 2025.
The building was constructed in 1981, an era when the Miami-Dade was a notorious drug hotspot. It has been said much of the building development that transformed depressed areas of Miami into luxury condos and offices was involved with laundering of drug money. The developer of the Champlain Towers was a disbared Canadian attorney allegedly associated with shady business dealings, and the General Contractor, Engineer and Surfside Councel, and Building Department at that time have been insinuated as understaffed, apathetic or corrupt.
There are reports of a penthouse being added on top of the original design, which may have resulted in additional weight for which the lower structure was not designed. The concrete columns and slab appear to have been designed with minimal size and strength, thus good maintenance was essential. With thin columns dotting the parking garage, columns may have sustained weakening from impacts.
Engineering inspection reports indicate that the elevated pool deck was designed without sufficient slope and drainage, such that water would flow through the top surface and then be trappled above the reinforced concrete, thus slowly rusting the steel reinforcing bars (rebars). Waterproofing below the pool deck pavers is typically a bituminous material that must be carefully appliend and is warranted for no longer than 20 years when properly applied and is not intended to be constanty submerged. Such waterproofing is often not sufficiently maintained because replacement is out of site, expensive and disruptive to recreational areas. Heavy planters were added to the top of the pool deck, these planters may not have been included in the original design. One column that may have been the location of the initial collapse, appears to have been an unusual, special design, a likely source of design imperfections.
Concerns have been expressed that rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion may have been detrimental to the soils and foundation. Additionally there are reports that construction vibrations from a neighboring property was a factor and there are indications of design and construction defects, particularly in regard to punching shear of the garage columns through floor slab.
These are some of the complex factors high-rise condos face in addition to great difficulties gaining Association approval and funding for such repairs. Condo Board Members may even be voted out for proposing such expensive repairs. Owner mindset was often willing to spend money on decorative finishes but reluctant to spend big money on concrete maintenance. SB 154 is intended to force condos to spend on necessary safety maintenance. Similar to laws that require regular inspection and maintenance of elevators.
Photo Courtesy of the US Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)