Questionable design, construction practices likely contributed to Surfside condo collapse


Dive brief:

  • While it takes years to fully understand what caused the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, there appear to be several points of failure, including questionable construction practices, that are believed to have contributed to the tragedy that killed 98 people in June, according to a New York Times analysis.
  • There were several issues that occurred during construction that could have contributed to the collapse of the building, including issues with the concrete covering of the structural slab on the bridge at ground level and with the amount of bars. of rebar in the parking garage columns, Gregg Schlesinger, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and former construction engineer and general contractor, told Construction Dive.
  • Additionally, engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology investigating the collapse focus on the materials used in the construction and design of the foundation, among other variables.

Dive overview:

The potential problems started with where the Champlain Towers were built. University study found the building was sinking two millimeters per year since the 1990s due to subsidence or compaction of soil in what was once a swampy area.

During the construction of the Champlain towers in 1980, the promoters asked the city for permission to add an additional floor to the two original buildings (a third was added in 1991). After early opposition from Surfside officials, developers were allowed to add the penthouse units.

While there is some debate about the contribution of the penthouses to the building collapse, they certainly did not help the situation. “It wasn’t designed for this,” Schlesinger said. “It is an additional load that is carried through it [the building] it shouldn’t have been allowed. “

The problems only arose from there.

The poor design of the pool deck at ground level did not allow for good drainage. The waterproofing failed on the deck and under the planters on the deck, allowing water to seep down into the structural concrete slab. The planters, not in the original design, added “tens of thousands of pounds in weight,” according to the New York Times.

On the construction front, Schlesinger highlighted a few specific issues that he said contributed to the failure after studying construction documents and photos of the collapsed building for different media.

Schlesinger said it appears the contractors did not stick to the construction plans for the raised structural slab on the pool deck above the garage with enough structural steel. While he may not have been directly responsible for the building’s failure, there was also a lack of sufficient concrete to cover the steel.

“In the Florida building code, you have to have an inch and a half of coverage, not three quarters of an inch of coverage,” Schlesinger said.

More questions

Another point of failure appears to be in the steel columns of the underground garage that supported the deck. According to Schlesinger, there were failures when the parking garage columns connected to this structural slab.

“Not having the steel between the columns and the structural slab and having the right coverage is a failure of the general contractor,” said Schlesinger.

Ultimately, these columns, which did not have the required shear caps on top, made their way through the structural slab.

“It’s kind of like putting paper on a sharp pencil and pulling the paper down,” Schlesinger said. “It got through.”

As more design and construction issues come to light at the South Champlain Towers, liability issues will also come to the fore. While many entrepreneurs may think their protection extends into the future, it becomes evident that the passage of time does not reduce liability. In the event of failure, entrepreneurs can be a target years later.

For example, in New York City, the statute of limitations for a construction defect is six years from the date of substantial completion, Megan Yllanes, partner and co-chair of the law firm’s civil liability defense practice group. lawyers Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck says Construction Dive. “But for bodily injury, it takes three years from the time an injury occurs. So, in theory, litigation could be filed many years later, including 40 years later.”


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