As a GC I have a 15-year latent structural defect responsibility that comes with my license. This pertains to larger buildings with multiple stories. As I get older this is a responsibility, I no longer put my self out there for. I have stopped building my own multi-story condos or rental apartments. It’s cheaper and makes more sense to hire a General Contractor that builds these structures every day. My last 7 story condo was completed 18 years ago so I have been off of that liability for a while. But, please don’t think I took my responsibility lightly because I did not. I made sure the architect and structural engineer made it a concrete fortress. So, what on earth happened in Surfside at Champlain Towers?
This is a scary moment in South Florida residential high-rise habitation. Just about 30 years ago another scary moment changed the landscape of South Florida building forever- s storm named Andrew rumbled through Dade county and exposed how vulnerable our outdated building code was. The result was the creation of the highly respected Dade County building code that now governs most of Southern and Coastal Florida as well as many islands in the Caribbean. And, today high-rise condos are built to higher standards largely due to technology and what we have learned from older buildings like Champlain Towers South in Surfside. Change will come to this sector because of this event.
As of this writing over 11 people have died and nearly 150 are unaccounted for and most likely have perished as well. This investigation will last for months and possibly longer- and it should be thorough. This is a life changing development that will eventually change (for the better) how we build and inspect these aging giant buildings. Concrete and steel are not indestructible as we have painfully witnessed.
What factor may have contributed to this collapse? The Champlain Towers condo was built on the barrier island facing Collins Ave. to the West and the Atlantic Ocean to the East- a formidable foe to steel and concrete, especially on a 40+ year old building. The usual suspects in these buildings up and down the coast are subterranean water intrusion from years of shifting and hurricane flood and wind abuse, spalling of the rebar inside the concrete because of the corrosive salt air and lack of proper and detailed maintenance. Most likely these effects and other unknown stresses combined to bring this building down.
As a builder and developer with knowledge and experience in all facets of our industry from a hands-on point of view I am saddened and perplexed by these events. I have seen this happen in other nations where engineering and process are not as strict as here, but in the USA a building of only 40 years old should be in better shape. I suspect the investigation will reveal something eye-opening and industry changing. I cannot imagine the families with missing relatives and friends. I also cannot imagine how worried and stressed people living in older buildings up and down the oceanfront must now feel.
In part 2- I will speculate how this event will change the landscape of large building construction codes and the effect on people wanting to flee their high-rise time bombs.
Stephen Gravett has been a real estate developer for over 45 years and was most recently CEO of Kennedy Homes for the past 11 years and is still CEO of Kennedy Development Partners (KDP). He is also full time Director of Operations for 5 Star Developers. He is a state licensed broker and since 1980 a State licensed General Contractor Unlimited. Before becoming a real estate developer, he flew B-52’s in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War.