(WSVN) - Just months before the collapse, residents said there were troubling revelations about the Champlain Towers South Condo, and it appears these problems were building for years.
In an April letter titled the “State of the Building,” the Champlain Condo president detailed why the building needed more than $16 million worth of work.
She wrote, “The garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection,” and “The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse.”
“When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface,” she added.
Near the end of the letter, the condo president wrote, “A lot of this work could have been done or planned for in years gone by, but this is where we are now.”
Three months after residents read that letter, the South condo partially collapsed.
The condo board has launched its own investigation.
“The board is already in the process of hiring an engineer to also try to figure out what happened, and they will be evaluating who is responsible,” condo board attorney Donna Berger said.
But, we do know issues with the Champlain Towers South were flagged as early as October 2018, when an engineer documented cracks and distressed concrete.
One month later, condo board minutes showed the then building official for Surfside, Ross Prieto, reviewed that engineer report and gave the impression to the board that “it appears the building is in very good shape.”
Architect William Hamilton Arthur said while Prieto led Surfside’s building department, repair and renovation work would sometimes be pushed back because documents were not always timely viewed and approved.
When asked if Prieto was often unresponsive to documents he would submit, Arthur said, “Yeah, it’s just not unresponsive. I would say there was a culture of complacency in that building department. Documents would be submitted up front at the front desk. We would hope that Ross would review it or make some type of determination, and often not, we waited several weeks before that was provided.”
Arthur said since new management took over the building department in 2020, the department’s operations are much smoother and more responsive.
7 Investigates has learned Prieto has connections to a 1997 building collapse in Miami Shores that killed two people. He was working for the city when a contractor hired an unlicensed contractor who gutted the inside of the building.
When pressed on whether contractors can hire unlicensed subcontractors to do demolition work, Prieto said, “No, they can’t.”
7 Investigates has also sent several text messages to Prieto to seek comment, and he has read the messages but has not yet responded.
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