There was nothing unusual about the lobby and pool area at Champlain Towers South condo, which looked clean and well maintained to a commercial pool contractor who visited the building last Tuesday, just 36 hours before half of the building unexpectedly collapsed. Then, he saw the basement-level garage.

“There was standing water all over the parking garage,” the contractor, who asked not to be named, told the Miami Herald. He noted cracking concrete and severely corroded rebar under the pool.

He also took photos, which he shared with the Herald.

The contractor visited the condo building last week to put together a bid for a cosmetic restoration of the pool as well as to price out new pool equipment — a small piece of the multimillion-dollar restoration project that just was getting underway at the 40-year-old building.

While he had worked in the industry for decades and had “gone in some scary places,” he said he was struck by the lack of maintenance in the lower level. The amount of water at Champlain Towers seemed so unusual that the contractor mentioned it to a building staff member, Jose, who was showing him around.

“He thought it was waterproofing issues,” the contractor said of the staff member. “I thought to myself, that’s not normal.” He said Jose told him they pumped the pool equipment room so frequently that the building had to replace pump motors every two years, but he never mentioned anything about structural damage or cracks in the concrete above.

Cracks in concrete, exposed rebar and wet floor in the pool equipment room of Champlain Towers South, in photos taken just 36 hours before the building collapsed.

The deepest puddle of standing water, according to the contractor, was located around parking spot 78 — an area that building plans show is located directly under the pool deck where in a 2018 inspection report, engineer Frank Morabito had flagged a “major error” in the original design that was allowing water intrusion and causing serious damage to the structural concrete slabs below.

He did not photograph that standing water because he was there to examine the pool and what was underneath it.

In the pool equipment room, located on the south side of the underground garage, the contractor saw another problem — exposed and corroding rebar in the concrete slab overhead. He snapped some pictures and sent them to his supervisor along with a note expressing concern that the job might be a bit more complicated than expected. He worried they would have to remove pool pipes to allow concrete restoration experts access to repair the slabs.

The building caved in two days later, before they had time to complete their bid.

“I wonder if this was going on in other parts of the building and caused this collapse,” he said.

CBS4’s Jim DeFede interviewed William Espinosa, a Champlain maintenance manager from the late 1990s, who said ocean saltwater would make its way into the underground garage — so much that “pumps never could keep up with it.”

The Champlain Towers South condo pool deck, photographed by a pool contractor on June 22, just two days before the building collapsed.

Maxwell Marcucci, a representative for the Champlain Towers South condo association, declined to comment Monday on whether the association was aware of the issues the pool contractor noticed.

Mohammad Ehsani, an engineer and concrete restoration expert who invented QuakeWrap technology, a way to reinforce old concrete columns, reviewed the contractor’s photos from the pool equipment room.

“You can see extensive corrosion of the rebars at the bottom of the beam. That is very serious,” Ehsani said, commenting it was the worst damage he had seen documented in the building so far. The equipment room runs along the southern wall of the building — an area that did not collapse.

“If the condition of the beam in the pool guy’s photo is something that was also happening under the building, that is a really major concern,” Ehsani said. In that case, it “absolutely” could have contributed to the collapse.

However, he cautioned against rushing to conclude that all beams in the building showed similar levels of damage to those exposed to chemicals from the pool. The 2018 report that documented “severe” structural damage to concrete in the garage under the pool deck did not include photos of anything nearly as alarming as what the pool contractor documented, Ehsani said.


A commercial pool contractor indicated where he saw serious corrosion in the Champlain Towers South pool equipment room in a photo he took two days before the building collapsed. Courtesy

Either way, the damage in the photo should have been a concern.

Metadata on the photographs confirmed they were taken when the contractor said they were: the morning of June 22.

“In these buildings that are asymmetrical like this one, there is a possibility that if you have one part of the building that collapses, the building does some turning and twisting,” Ehsani said. “In this case, it is possible that a failure any place in this building could cause distortion to the frame of the building and could cause a collapse in any of the areas, not just adjacent [to the failure].”