A Florida building inspector who assured residents of the collapsed tower that it was in good shape a month after being warned otherwise has been suspended from his new job.
Rosendo Prieto was named chief building official of Surfside in July 2013 – a position he held until November 2020. On Tuesday Prieto was placed on leave from his job as interim building official for C.A.P. Government Inc, where he began working in May this year. He was working to provide building department services to government clients in Doral.
A spokesman for C.A.P. said: ‘On June 28, 2021, C.A.P. Government, Inc. notified the City of Doral that Mr. Prieto was on a leave of absence and assigned another employee to assist the City of Doral Building Department on a temporary basis.’
In October 2018 Frank Morabito, an engineer, warned Prieto of ‘major structural damage’ in the Champlain Towers South building he said would cost around $9 million to repair. Morabito had been commissioned by the residents’ association to look into the building, ahead of its 40-year structural review, due in 2021.
But in November 2018, Prieto told the residents that he had reviewed Morabito’s report and found little of concern.
‘It appears the building is in very good shape,’ Prieto told them, according to the minutes of the meeting released by Surfside on Monday, and obtained by NBC News. The building collapsed in the early hours of last Thursday, with 12 people so far confirmed dead. A further 150 remain unaccounted for.
Surfside’s chief building official in November 2018 told residents of the Champlain Towers South that there were no major structural concerns. He had received a report a month before warning of serious damage to the tower
The building from the water on Tuesday as search and rescue teams used cranes to try to find survivors. Only one part of the building remains intact
Tributes on the beach next to the collapsed condo on Tuesday morning. There are fears for the two that are next to it and were built by the same developer
Crews work in the rubble Champlain Towers South condo, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday’s fatal collapse
Exposed portions of the building show a children’s bedroom on the top floor of the building that was partially damaged alongside other parts that were ripped off. It’s unclear if anyone was in these bedrooms when the building collapsed. 150 people remain missing – 11 are confirmed dead
The minutes stated: ‘The permit process, balcony railings, concrete restoration, and waterproofing was discussed.’
The day after the meeting, Prieto wrote in an email to then-town manager Guillermo Olmedillo that ‘it went very well.’
‘The response was very positive from everyone in the room,’ he wrote.
Rosendo Prieto was chief building officer of Surfside from July 2013 until November 2020
‘All main concerns over their 40-year recertification process were addressed.’
Yet Morabito’s report, released by Surfside officials on Friday, included pictures of what he wrote was ‘abundant cracking’ and crumbling in the underground parking garage of the 12-story building.
Morabito also said the waterproofing below the pool deck and entrance drive was failing, ‘causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.’
The building’s structural slab helps hold it up, with Champlain Towers’ slab feared to have been badly corroded by water from its leaking pool, as well as sea water from coastal floods.
Morabito added: ‘Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.’
Morabito recommended that concrete slabs, which were ‘showing distress’ by the entrance and pool deck, ‘be removed and replaced in their entirety.’
He said the concrete deterioration should ‘be repaired in a timely fashion.’
That pool was swallowed into a massive sinkhole shortly before the collapse, now-missing resident Cassondra ‘Cassie’ Billedeau-Stratton told her husband on the phone before her line went dead.
Another resident’s concerns about construction work nearby were also dismissed by Prieto.
Mara Chouela, a member of the resident-led Champlain Towers South board, emailed Prieto in early 2019 hoping to raise a red flag about the construction.
‘We are concerned that the construction next to Surfside is too close,’ she wrote.
‘The terra project on Collins and 87 are digging too close to our property and we have concerns regarding the structure of our building.’
Prieto responded: ‘There is nothing for me to check.’
Prieto has not responded for comment about why he gave the building the all-clear, despite Morabito’s report.
He told The Miami Herald that he does not remember getting the 2018 report, nor does he remember receiving the 2019 emails from Chouela.
This is the scale of the debris, shown overnight as search and rescue teams used cranes to sift through the rubble
Structural engineer Frank Morabito in October 2018 warned of damage to the tower
News of Prieto’s role came as it emerged that a contractor photographed worrying signs of damage in the parking garage of the Champlain Towers South complex on Tuesday – just 36 hours before the building collapsed.
The photographer saw corroding ‘rebar’ – steel rods with ridges, for use in reinforced concrete – and cracked concrete.
Rebar often corrodes when exposed to salt and chemicals, like those used in the swimming pool – or from seawater.
The building collapse in the early hours of Thursday killed at least 11 people, with 150 still missing.
The contractor, who has not been named, had been asked to survey the damage in the pool equipment room, which was in the southside of the underground parking garage, beneath the pool deck.
Photos taken on June 22 in the pool equipment room at Champlain Towers South, which is located in the basement parking garage, show extensive concrete spalling and corroded rebar. A contractor took these photos and noticed that in the actual parking garage, there were puddles of water which were in the direct spot beneath the leaking pool deck
This is a breakdown of the repairs that were needed to Champlain Towers South and how much they were going to cost residents. The most expensive item was a $4million facade, balcony and railing repair. Residents questioned much of the breakdown
COST AND TIMELINE OF CHAMPLAIN TOWERS REPAIRS
2018 cost: $12million
That is the initial cost given by Frank Morabito, who was hired to conduct a review for the building’s recertification process.
Morabito was rehired in 2019 and he conducted a more extensive review.
A committee was then formed to decide who was going to do the work
2021 cost: $16million
This was how much the work had increased by because the damage had become worse.
This figure also reflects the engineer’s fee for doing it.
Cash on hand: $707,000
Cash needed: $15.5million
What each owner owed:
$80,000-$336,000 depending on apartment size
Owners were given until July 1 to decide how to pay. The work bids were due to end on June 1 but bids were still being taken for the concrete project
How to pay
Lump sum or in monthly installments of $500 or more for 15 years
Units in building: 136
He was putting together a bid to redo the pool and the pool equipment room – but was taken aback by the damage, which he photographed.
He told The Miami Herald afterwards: ‘There was standing water all over the parking garage…I thought to myself, that’s not normal.’
The damage had been identified in Morabito’s 2018 report.
He found that there was a ‘major error’ in the building’s construction which meant the pool was leaking onto the concrete slabs below.
In April, the condo board – which had been deliberating the repairs for two years, trying to come up with the money for them and organizing a committee to oversee them – sent a letter to residents telling them the damage was ‘significantly worse’ and ‘accelerating’.
‘Please note that the original scope of work in the 2018 report has expanded. The concrete deterioration is accelerating,’ wrote board president Jean Wodnicki in a letter explaining why Morabito’s estimate of $9 million to repair the building had risen to $15 million.
‘The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated. When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface.
‘Indeed the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection.’
In that letter, she said they were still trying to finalize a loan from Valley Bank to pay for the repairs.
They had tried to get a loan from Banco Popular, but the deal fell through.
Wodnicki wrote that the total cost was more than $16 million and the board had just $707,000 in cash reserves, leaving them with a bill for around $15 million.
The owners of the building’s 136 units would be responsible for repaying it and each was on the hook for a different amount depending on how big their unit was.
Owners of a one-bedroom apartment would owe $80,000, while those in a four-bedroom penthouse would have to shell out $336,000.
Officials said Monday that local investigations into what caused the building to collapse would determine if state building protocols need to be changed.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology said it was sending a team of six to the site of the collapse.
After the team, which investigated in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, does its initial assessment, it will decide whether to do a complete investigation that would likely inform future federal building codes.
President Joe Biden and the First Lady will visit the site on Thursday.