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Dire Warnings Arose In Months Before Miami-Area Condo Tower Collapse

8777 Collins Ave. in Surfside, Florida, photographed in January 2021.

Although the images produced by the collapse of the Champlain Towers South complex in the Miami suburb of Surfside were shocking, the collapse itself wasn't out of the blue.

The president of the building's condo association sent a letter to residents in April asking them to contribute for $15M in assessed repairs to the tower's concrete structure, The Wall Street Journal reports. In the April 9 letter, Jean Wodnicki, the condo board's president, warned that "the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse over the years.”

The need for repair had been known for years, and the $15M assessment was a 60% jump in price from an assessment that stemmed from an engineer's inspection in 2018, The New York Times reports. The letter warned that not only had the issues identified in 2018 worsened, but new problems had arisen as well. The assessment would have cost over $80K for residents of the building's smallest units and up to $336K for the owner of the four-bedroom penthouse unit, CNN reports.

The penthouse sat atop the 12th floor of Champlain Towers South, exceeding the height limit in Surfside's zoning laws for the area at the time of its construction, Fox Business reports. The town's planning commission granted the builders a special exemption for the penthouse, the Miami Herald reported at the time of the building's completion in 1981.

Champlain Towers South had been the subject of multiple lawsuits over cracks in its concrete, the most recent one dating to 2015, Bisnow reported last week. Another distressing sign was noted by a pool repairman just two days before the collapse.

The room housing the mechanical equipment for the pool had a large amount of standing water and showed signs of major concrete corrosion and exposed rebar, the contractor told the Miami Herald. Photos he took of the room's damage, which sat underground on a side of the building that didn't collapse, were confirmed by the Herald to have been taken on June 22.

The contractor was there to calculate an estimate for some cosmetic pool repairs that were to be carried out as part of the $15M assessment, but the contractor hadn't begun work by the time the building collapsed, the Herald reports. A building staff member said the equipment room was flooded by seawater so frequently that a motor for the pump they used to drain it had to be replaced every two years.

The 2018 report that eventually produced the $15M assessment cited a "major error" in construction that allowed seawater to intrude into parts of the beachside condo tower and damage its concrete slabs, the Herald reports.