The condo in Surfside, Fla., that collapsed two years ago had a pool deck with a “severe strength deficiency” and its construction in some areas failed to meet both building codes and its original design parameters, federal investigators have found.
Concerns about the pool deck have surfaced repeatedly since the June 2021 collapse at Champlain Towers South that left 98 people dead, but the preliminary analysis from a federal team shows the extent of the problems uncovered so far.
Investigators still have many more months of work ahead before reaching a conclusion about what caused the failure. But new documents scheduled for release on Thursday suggest they have been focusing on a potential failure of the pool deck that could have triggered the collapse of the mid-rise residential tower.
Investigators with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is leading the investigation, have described it as one of the most complex inquiries it has ever undertaken, in part because there was no obvious cause.
Investigators have interviewed witnesses, reviewed historical records, tested the building’s materials and produced models of its structural soundness. They have looked at the original design and construction of the 40-year-old tower as well as all renovations and repairs; they have also examined the potential effects of corrosion, ground settlement and vibrations from construction nearby. Officials say they do not anticipate completing their final report until May 2025.
The collapse in the early morning hours of June 24, 2021, came with little warning. Some witnesses reported that the pool deck area fell first, crushing vehicles in the parking garage below, and structural engineers said a failure there could have destabilized columns underneath the main part of the building. A large portion of the tower collapsed into a pile of rubble within minutes, before many residents were aware that something was amiss.
In summaries of their preliminary findings ahead of a hearing Thursday, the investigators wrote that the pool deck’s design lacked sufficient strength at and between many of its supporting columns. The investigators determined that those problems were severe in many places.
But the pool deck had other problems. The steel reinforcement inside the concrete slabs of the pool deck was buried deeper in the concrete than the initial designs. Planters that were heavier and more extensive than originally designed had been added to parts of the pool deck, bringing more weight to an already under-designed system. Investigators have also been looking at the layers of sand and paving stones added later to the top of the deck, and at signs of corrosion in some parts of the steel reinforcement of the deck.
All those issues, the investigators said, left the structure with “critically low” margins to protect against failure. There are signs that the pool deck was showing distress — cracks in a planter and sagging concrete slabs — well before the collapse, the investigators wrote.
The investigative team said it was not yet ready to issue any recommendations but that it planned to consider new guidance on construction practices, building codes, document-retention requirements and ways of assessing the safety of existing buildings.
The building, constructed in 1981, had many issues that have previously been reported, not only with the pool deck, but with corroded columns, design errors and improper steel reinforcement. Three years before the tragedy, an engineer had