The consultant who warned that a Miami-area condominium was being weakened by “major structural damage” nearly three years before the building collapsed last week was identified Saturday as a family-owned, Maryland-based engineering firm that’s behind a slew of high-profile local building projects.
Morabito Consultants, which has offices in Sparks and Florida’s Palm Beach Gardens, prepared a nine-page report in 2018 documenting damage to several concrete support fixtures that were part of Champlain Towers South, an upscale condominium complex near Miami.
The 130-unit condominium building collapsed during the early morning hours Thursday while many residents likely were asleep. At least nine people were confirmed dead in the wreckage, while about 130 remain unaccounted for.
The Maryland firm had been hired to assess the integrity of the 12-story building, a high-end condominium complex in which residents had been complaining about water leaking into their units.
The Champlain South Towers Structural Field Survey Report was signed by Frank Morabito, the consulting firm’s founder and president and is dated Oct. 8, 2018. The report was released late Friday by the Town of Surfside, where the complex was located.
The report concluded that failed waterproofing beneath the pool was “causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”
“Failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extend of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” it added.
Morabito’s report noted that the repairs would “be extremely expensive” and “cause a major disturbance to the occupants of this condominium building.”
The report also documented damage to some columns, beams and walls of the parking garage. These concrete structures were “cracking” and “spalling,” the report said — an engineering term for when thin layers of concrete become detached from the surface.
“Though some of this damage is minor,” Morabito wrote, “most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion.”
It is not known whether the damage discovered by Morabito Consultants was a factor in the building’s destruction.
A spokesman for Morabito Consultants could not be reached for comment.
Kenneth S. Direktor, an attorney representing the condominium association told The New York Times that the repairs the consulting firm recommended had been scheduled to begin soon. Direktor told the newspaper that the condominium’s board of directors and other residents had not realized that the structural issues were a serious threat.
The Morning Sun
According to the company website, most of Morabito Consultants’ highest-visibility projects have been in the Baltimore area. The firm was instrumental in renovating the Hippodrome Theatre and Maryland Science Center, according to the company’s website. It helped expand the Rotunda and the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center. This is the firm that helped build the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Brown Center with its striking glass facade.
But the project that founder and president Frank Morabito describes on his company’s website as his “favorite” was the restoration of a luxury condominium complex in Sarasota, Florida, that almost collapsed 11 years ago, but did not.
The story behind the near-catastrophe involving Sarasota’s Dolphin Tower and the building’s eventual restoration has parallels to the tragedy in Miami.
On June 30, 2010, a structural crack was discovered in the core of Dolphin Tower that resulted in the evacuation of the 117-unit, 15-floor condominium complex, according to news reports. Residents were given 24 hours to pack and leave.
The structural damage was later determined to be so extensive that the condominium complex was nearly condemned. Instead Dolphin Tower remained closed for five years while repairs were completed. In 2015, residents were finally allowed to return home, according to a 2015 story in Sarasota Magazine.
Morabito Consultants said on its website that the firm devised a solution to strengthen the Dolphin Tower’s structure based on Florida building codes “while saving the condominium owners several million dollars.”
The company’s work on the complex later won awards from the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations and the International Concrete Repair Institute, its website says.