“Very Low Margin of Protection” in Champlain Towers South, Preliminary Findings Show
“Under conditions that we believe were present at the time of collapse, there was a very low margin of protection in parts of the structure,” stated Glenn R. Bell, principal investigator for the Champlain Towers South case at NIST. He emphasized that in some cases, the margin was “very low,” suggesting a combination of factors contributing to the tragic incident.
Structural Design Flaws in Pool Area Identified
In his presentation, Bell highlighted the inadequacy of the floor design for the Champlain Towers South pool. He explained that the structure lacked sufficient strength between supporting columns, citing the excessive distances between them as a significant issue. This problem was particularly severe in multiple areas of the building.
Unintended Modifications and Additional Weight Added to the Pool Platform
Bell pointed out two changes in the pool area that contributed to the structural weaknesses. First, planters were added to the northern part of the pool platform, which were not part of the original design. These planters were heavy and tall, adding considerable weight to an already burdened system. Second, during a pool deck renovation, layers of sand and waterproofing were added, further reducing the margin of safety.
Deterioration and Corrosion Found in Platform Reinforcement
Signs of varying degrees of corrosion and deterioration were discovered on the reinforcement rods of the pool platform. Bell explained that this compromises the strength of the bars and will be further investigated to determine their contribution to the collapse. He also mentioned that the western area of the pool showed severe stress, including cracks, prior to the incident.
Lessons from the Champlain Towers South Collapse
The collapse of Champlain Towers South, which claimed the lives of 98 people, is considered one of the worst tragedies in the history of residential buildings in the United States. Concerns about the pool deck’s stability had been raised by both residents and inspectors prior to the incident. The preliminary findings from NIST provide initial insights into the problems underlying the collapse.
Ongoing Investigation and Future Report
NIST researchers have more than a year of investigation ahead, with the final report scheduled for May 2025. The report will include recommendations for building codes and animations illustrating the causes of the Champlain Towers South collapse. It will draw on witness interviews, examination of the structure’s condition, and computerized tests on the remnants of the building.
Potential Causes Still Being Explored
Bell acknowledged that the investigation into the collapse is complex and challenging. He noted that NIST is still evaluating whether a specific event or gradual deterioration over time led to the sudden collapse on June 24, 2021. The team continues to explore various potential causes in their pursuit of answers.
Flaws in Structure Became Evident
Post-collapse investigations revealed numerous flaws in the structure of Champlain Towers South. In April 2018, the firm Morabito Consultants identified violations in the pool and parking area, including peeling paint on the garage ceiling and water leaks on the pavement. They warned that the garage structure showed signs of failure and fatigue, with significant cracking in columns, beams, and walls. Repairs were recommended to address deteriorated concrete.
Impact of Poor Repairs on Water Leaks
The company also highlighted the negative effects of inadequate repairs on the pool deck, potentially contributing to worsening water leaks in the underground parking lot. These leaks were expected to deteriorate further if necessary repairs were not promptly carried out.