‘A recipe for disaster’: Piedmont construction expert gives insight into Florida condo collapse as death toll reaches 32

Piedmont Triad News

HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — Florida crews continue to dig through the rubble of what remains of the Champlain Tower condo building in Surfside, but it could take months before investigators find out the exact location of where the foundation of the building began to fail. 

Documents and inspection letters detail locations on the property that needed serious maintenance, including weakening concrete.

Demolition expert William Fields suspects the problems could date back further than that.

“There’s photographs showing the rebar exposed, the concrete falling away from the rebar. When you’ve got a multi-structure building that is dependent on that base to support everything above it, you have that type of failure. It’s just a recipe for disaster,” Fields said.

Fields is the president of the Contractors Service Group Inc. based out of High Point and has worked in construction field for more than 30 years.  

He believes the collapse was caused by poor building conditions and exposure to the elements.

“The bad maintenance of beams and just the water being introduced into the concrete, which basically just eroded down and penetrated into the concrete and rusted the rebar,” Fields explained.  

The building was built in the 1970s, but it’s unclear as to when and what changes, additions and updates were done to the structure since.  

Fields said that it’s very possible the building was not built with a proper water drainage system in place or slopes within the foundation for the water to escape, which could have led the concrete to separate from the rebar base after the water built up over time.  

“I guess they were depending on water proofing of [the concrete] and everything to be able to migrate water away from the structure. What they were saying in some of these inspections is it looks like the water proofing had failed,” Fields said.

As crews continue to search for survivors, investigators are also being careful to preserve the site so the rubble can be properly tested.  

Fields explained, it’s the equivalent of recreating a plane after it crashes.

“Core samples of concrete, sections of rebar. Labs that can measure the density of the concrete and strength to potentially see where the building was failing,” he said.

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