A Surfside town official assured residents of Champlain Towers South that their building was “in very good shape” in Nov. 2018, meeting minutes obtained by Asia Despatch show – even though the official had received a report warning of “major structural damage” to the tower two days earlier, according to emails released by the town.
Rosendo Prieto, who worked as the town’s building official at the time, made the comments at a meeting of the tower’s condo association more than two years before the building’s collapse, according to minutes from the Nov. 15, 2018 meeting.
“Structural engineer report was reviewed by Mr. Prieto,” the minutes said, in an apparent reference to a 2018 report from structural engineer Frank Morabito, which detailed cracking and dilapidating concrete in the parking garage underneath the tower, among other significant issues. Although Prieto noted that the report “was not in the format for the 40 year certification he determined the necessary data was collected and it appears the building is in very good shape,” the minutes say.
A resident of the condo, Susana Alvarez, told NPR that she attended the meeting – which took place in the building’s recreation room – and remembered a representative of the town saying, “the building was not in bad shape.”
Emails released by the town confirm Prieto attended the meeting.
Two days before the meeting took place, on Nov. 13, 2018, a member of the condo board, Mara Chouela, forwarded Prieto a copy of the structural engineer’s report, according to an email released by the town on Saturday.
And the day after the meeting, Prieto sent another email to Guillermo Olmedillo, the former town manager, saying the condo board meeting “went very well.”
“The response was very positive from everyone in the room,” Prieto wrote in the Nov. 16 email, which was released by the town Sunday evening. “All main concerns over their forty year recertification process were addressed.”
He wrote that the building – which was built in 1981 – didn’t have to start the recertification until 2021, “but they have decided to start the process early which I wholeheartedly endorse and wish that this trend would catch on with other properties.”
It’s unclear how much work had been done to repair the building before its collapse – or whether the issues identified in the 2018 report contributed to the disaster. Morabito Consultants, the engineering firm that produced the report, said in a statement Saturday that the condo association hired it in June 2020 to prepare plans for the 40-year restoration, and that “roof repairs were underway, but concrete restoration had not yet begun” when the building fell.
Prieto no longer works for Surfside and currently serves as the interim building official for Doral, another city in Miami-Dade County, according to the Doral website and a county document. Prieto has not responded to requests for comment from Asia Despatch.