In a Surfside condo almost semi-collapsed, some residents say they put

Robert Andai was visiting friends and neighbors in the South Champlain Tower just five hours before it suddenly collapsed June 24.

Andai says he was one of the first residents to move into the South Champlain Tower, 8777 Collins Avenue in Surfside, when it was built in 1981. Seven years later, he moved two properties to the North Champlain Tower, 8877 Collins Ave., a building that appears to be a quasi-twin of the South Tower built in 1982.

The 12-story north tower is 24 units shorter than the 12-story south tower. The south tower was beige with brown trim and the north tower is more elegant with gray and navy trim. They were built a year apart and from the outside appeared similar in design.

But Andai believes there is a significant difference between Champlain Nord and the collapsed South Tower – the boards of the owners association, which are separate.

“Two different animals,” said Andai, 73, vice president of the North Tower.

Andai and homeowners association president Naum Lusky said several inspectors gave the north condo a “good health check” – including a prominent structural engineer recently hired by the city, who visited the building. as a result of the collapse. Both board members said they have been proactive in addressing issues with the building, which itself is approaching a required 40-year recertification survey. The south tower had officially started the process.

Still, some residents were concerned enough about the tragedy next door to relocate – at least temporarily.

The north condo management company went door-to-door last week to survey residents. About half of the 113 units in the building are unoccupied as second homes. Of the occupied dwellings, half of the residents left voluntarily, while the other half stayed. The Miami Foundation is providing resources to relocate these families since they are not eligible for federal assistance.

“See a two-building building and know that you have an affiliation with that building by name, location, history,” said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, president of the foundation. “I understand that they must be afraid and concerned.”

Management has identified two families who wish to leave but need help. One is a family of six with three children. They could not be reached for comment.

Lipsey says the foundation is still working to determine how best to provide support, whether through donations or connections with hotels and airbnb. Donations can be made through

Last week Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he called a meeting in the North Tower to discuss plans for further building inspections with the homeowners association board of directors and send a letter to residents regarding their move.

Allyn Kilsheimer, a renowned structural engineer retained by the city to study the collapse, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that he had visited the North Tower three times and had seen nothing alarming.

The north building has had a “series of leaks” in its parking lot over the years, he said, but it appears the condo association has taken steps to address it – such as installing “gutters. “to keep water away from the garage and replace waterproofing in outdoor areas.

“I saw very little problem with the deterioration of the garage,” Kilsheimer said, adding that he “hadn’t seen anything like what I read” in the south tower. An engineering report in 2018 found that water was not draining properly from the south tower pool deck, causing substantial deterioration of the concrete that is expected to worsen “exponentially” over time.

Rubble and debris from the Champlain Towers South condo can be seen in Surfside, Florida on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The rubble shown here is from the front portion of the condominium, which was demolished on July 4 after the back part of the tower collapsed with people inside on June 24. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

Kilsheimer said he was not sure the North Tower was built with a fully flat pool deck – what engineer Frank Morabito called a “major mistake” in the design of the South Tower in his design. report from 2018. But Kilsheimer said that when the South Tower replaced its waterproofing, he believes concrete was installed so the area sloped and drains properly.

So far, Kilsheimer’s assessments have been based solely on observations and conversations with members of the Champlain Towers North Board of Directors. He said he had not yet asked the council to turn over any documents, including inspection reports of the building’s original construction. Council members also did not provide any technical reports or documents regarding the repairs to the Herald.

“When I talk to them [again], I go [ask]”said Kilsheimer.

The building is to be recertified for 40 years next year. Andai said the homeowners association is interviewing engineers to perform the required inspection and expects a report to be ready in about a month.

But Kilsheimer said without evidence of structural problems at the North Tower, he had no reason to believe it was dangerous. He extended this logic to the whole region.

“I would let my children and grandchildren live in apartments on the Florida coast. You can’t live in fear your whole life, ”he said. “There is nothing that I know of or that no one else knows that would say this is a problem in the South and therefore a problem in all the buildings along the ocean.”

Burkett had a different opinion on Tuesday, telling reporters he continued to be “deeply concerned” about the North Tower given its similarity to the South Champlain Towers.

“We’re taking a deep dive from the sister building… which is essentially the same building, built by the same developer at the same time, with the same blueprints, probably with the same materials,” Burkett said. “Since we don’t know why the first building collapsed, we have serious concerns about this building and the residents there.”

Burkett said the city planned to work with the North Building to take a deep dive on the structure, “including ground penetrating radar, columns, beams, slabs, and trying to figure out what may be happening. happen, what happened happen. “

Burkett said additional experts were brought to the North Tower of the National Institute of Standards and Technology near Washington, DC.

“The condominium board is also negotiating with a private engineer to do a study,” Burkett added, explaining that the HOA’s private investigation will be conducted separately from that of the city.

Lusky says the homeowners association board has shared any reports provided by inspectors and visiting professionals with residents.

“I tried to convince them that people are safe in the building,” said Lusky, 81.

Hugo Landivar, the building manager, gave two Miami Herald journalists a tour of the underground garage and the pool deck. The balconies have been redone to get rid of the tiling, which weighs and hides water damage, and have been sealed. Landivar, along with Andai and Lusky, say they recently waterproofed the pool with high quality materials.

“We are taking care of the building,” Landivar said. “We don’t let water stay in the building. The top priority has been to take care of the foundations of the building.

Landivar showed reporters a business card from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and said inspectors found no damage to the columns. But a NIST spokeswoman said the expert was not there to inspect the north tower for health, but to study it to find out what was wrong with the south tower because the buildings are similar. .

Lusky said the experts who have been there have “all given us their approval.” He said Kilsheimer told them their building was “one of the best buildings he’s seen.”

Lusky says the board tried to sort out the issues as they went along. Andai, the vice president, and Lusky say their own technical knowledge helps them understand and deal with issues. Lusky was a developer specializing in construction while Andai has a background in aviation and aerodynamics.

“You don’t wait 40 years,” he said.

Andai understands the concerns and the reasons some choose to leave. But he stays put, believing in the work he has done with his board of directors.

“The only reason we’re doing it is that we want to maintain the building,” he said. “Our families live here.

Miami Herald editor Marie-Rose Sheinerman contributed to this report.

Follow more of our reports on Condo Collapse: Catastrophe at Surfside

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Colleen Wright returned to the Miami Herald in May 2018 to cover everything related to education, including schools, colleges and universities in Miami-Dade and Broward. The Herald was his first internship before leaving his hometown of South Miami to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida. She previously covered education for the Tampa Bay Times.

Asta Hemenway is a 2021 Summer Intern on the Miami Herald’s News and General Assignments team. She previously wrote for The Independent Florida Alligator. There, she also served as Metro editor and criminal justice and breaking news reporter. She attended the University of Florida and grew up in Tallahassee.

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