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Condo boards rush to examine buildings after Surfside tragedy

Palm Beach County doesn't have 40-year recertification plan
Posted at 6:48 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 21:58:05-04

BOCA RATON, Fla. — In the aftermath of the Surfside tragedy, everyone from condominium boards to independent engineers to lawmakers are scrambling to ensure a building collapse never happens again.

But the blueprint for insuring that is not in focus yet and the challenges are daunting.

The twin Chalfonte Towers rise 22 stories above the surf and sand in Boca Raton. The buildings opened in the mid-1970s and has 378 condominium units.

Even before the deadly Surfside building collapse, condominium board president Steve Rogers said he pushed to stay ahead of problems.

Steve Rogers, condominium board president at Chalfonte Towers in Boca Raton
Steve Rogers explains safety measures being peformed on Chalfonte Condominiums in Boca Raton.

"We have ... created a position that is going to be infrastructure manager," Rogers said.

Rogers said he and his condo board are not waiting.

Palm Beach County does not have a 40-year recertification plan for buildings like Miami-Dade and Broward counties. But he's told his own building engineer to come up with an inspection schedule to supplement work that started two years ago.

"We did in 2019 have an inspection and right now doing a comprehensive concrete restoration project that's ongoing as we speak," Rogers said.

The entire building and inspection review process is underway everywhere.

The Surfside tragedy demands it, but the scope of the potential work is enormous.

There are 125 beachfront condos in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties with 81 percent of them constructed before 1993. More than a third of those buildings are older than the Surfside condo that collapsed in June.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay lays out some of the questions lawmakers faces following the Surfside tragedy.

However, many questions still remain: how to deal with issues now arising? Who will write the rules and enforce them? How will lawmakers make changes stick? How will condominium residents and their boards react?

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay and her colleagues are bringing experts together for that discussion.

"These condo boards, they are all volunteers yet they have tremendous power to assess the owners of the units within their association and how we keep it affordable. And who is the best fit for making these regulations a reality? Is it the local government? Is it the state? My opinion today was this is really something I feel should be dictated by Tallahassee," McKinlay said.

The shockwaves from the Surfside collapse demand a long-term search for answers.

"I'm a firm believer that we have to think for ourselves. We don't just have to rely on the state to tell us when we need to do something. I believe we must be proactive," Rogers said.

The association of general contractors spoke before Palm Beach County elected leaders during a commission meeting Tuesday.

The experts said much must be learned about precisely what caused the Surfside condo collapse so that fixes and new standards can truly make a difference.

McKinlay said her takeaway was that a newly-defined building inspection program will be a must.