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Documents shed new light on urgent conversations leading up to Surfside building collapse

By David Shortell and Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman, CNN

A cache of internal Champlain Towers South documents obtained by CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront sheds new light on the urgent conversations about the required construction on the building in the months leading up to its collapse.

In a series of presentations delivered in the fall and winter of 2020, residents were shown slides titled “why we have to do all this now” and told that the driveway on top of the building’s garage had “very poor drainage (design flaw).”

“There is no waterproofing layer over the garage in the driveway or any area except the pool deck and planters. This has exposed the garage to water intrusion for 40 years. Where there is waterproofing, it has failed. Water has gotten underneath and caused additional damage to the concrete,” one presentation, from October of that year, reads.

“The drainage problems must be corrected so that water drains off to the sides (code issue),” says another December 2020 presentation, the first half of the sentence underlined for emphasis.

The documents, which were first reported by NPR, provide a further window into the information being received by decision-makers at the condominium as they struggled to move forward on the costly repairs required by local law.

It was not clear who delivered the presentations, but in some of them an official with the building’s management was listed as a point of contact for any questions.

The language used to describe the structural problems in the 40-year-old building has varied since an engineer brought in by the condominium board first reviewed the tower in 2018.

In a report that year, the engineer, Frank Morabito, wrote that “failed waterproofing” below the pool deck and the entrance drive was “causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas” and warned that failure to replace it in the near future would cause “concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.”

But an inspector from the town of Surfside, Ross Prieto, told residents at a November 2018 meeting that building was “in very good shape,” according to minutes obtained by CNN earlier this week.

By April 2021, the president of the condominium’s board, Jean Wodnicki, was warning that “the concrete deterioration is accelerating.”

“The observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial [2018] inspection,” Wodnicki wrote in a letter to building residents.

Infighting among the board members over the repairs, which had jumped in price from an estimated $9 million to $15 million by 2021, had led in part to the resignation the majority of the condominium’s board by the fall of 2019, The Washington Post reported.

The rancor among residents was made clear in one of the new presentations obtained by CNN on Saturday.

“Complaining Or Shouting At Each Other Doesn’t Work! Voting Is The Best Way To Understand What The Majority Wants,” the November presentation reads.

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