Charles W. Burkett, the mayor of the town of Surfside, Fla., is “very concerned” that Allyn Kilsheimer, the town’s structural consultant probing the June 24 fatal collapse of part of the 12-story Champlain Towers South, has not been allowed on the site by the Miami-Dade Police Department. In addition, Burkett is troubled by a recent MDPD request for qualifications for local structural forensic engineering services that disqualifies any firm with “conflicts or associations with the building or the Town of Surfside.”
That rules out any application from Kilsheimer, founder, chairman and CEO of KCE Structural Engineers, based in Washington, D.C. “I’m very concerned that our expert, one of the most qualified engineers on the planet, has been blocked from the site” to study the foundations and anything below grade, says Burkett. “If the county is going to be hiring someone else, we need someone as qualified or more qualified than Allyn Kilsheimer.”
Since June 25, Kilsheimer and his team have been studying the 1979 plans of the residential condominium, which opened in 1981. They have built a 3D model from the original plans but cannot complete an as-built model without access to the evidence and the site. They have viewed photos and videos and, from the edges, probed the collapse, which to date killed at least 98 people. But it is impossible to find the cause or causes without testing materials and inspecting the foundations and basement, says Kilsheimer, who is frustrated.
“We have a whole team together, but we have not been allowed on site by the police,” he says. “Any team that has yet to be named will be four, eight even 12 weeks behind us.”
No Reason To Evacuate
KCE also has been doing walk-throughs of other Surfside buildings, looking for danger signs of failure. In addition, KCE has inspected a near twin of the reinforced concrete Champlain Towers South named Champlain Towers North. His team took concrete cores of slabs and found no reason to evacuate that building or others in Surfside.
On June 24, however, officials did evacuate two buildings out of precaution—the buildings immediately to the north and south of Champlain Towers South, which has since been razed and the site cleared.
Before the debris and rubble were removed, the National Institute of Standards and Technology identified and tagged more than 200 pieces of evidence, including sections of columns, beams and slabs. MDPD, which is preserving the evidence for NIST’s future technical phase of its probe, has removed all the material either to a remote lot or a warehouse.
On July 29, after contacting Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and the MDPD, Burkett was given permission to tour the cleared site, accompanied only by Surfside's town manager and town attorney.
“Mr. Kilsheimer was not allowed to go to the site,” says Burkett. “He needs to get on the site to look at the foundations.”
Miami-Dade Equitable Distribution Program
For its forensic consultant, Francisco M. Caldera, the capital improvements project analyst in the county's small business division, emailed on July 28 a request for qualifications, called an "equitable distribution program survey," to dozens of firms in the EDP program.
The county's EDP establishes a county pool of qualified local architects, engineers and landscape architects and provides a process to equitably distribute smaller county capital improvements projects, according to the county. These projects have a construction cost of less than $2 million and professional fees of up to $200,000.
All qualified firms with a local Miami-Dade office may potentially participate in the EDP program, which is “not only a minority and/or small business program. However, the ranking method favors the smaller firms with fewer previous county work opportunities,” says the county.
In its request, MDPD says it is seeking a qualified EDP structural consultant that has “first-hand experience with structural evaluation, to include, but not be limited to, conducting forensic investigations, preparing repair designs and preparing/submitting demolition engineering design/permit applications."
The firm, with a minimum of 20 years of experience, should be able to perform a comprehensive investigation of all construction and design contracts documents, inspections logs, testing, substitution, codes and standards of the time and more, as the consultant "deems required, as well as field inspection of the failed structure, to provide MDPD with an engineering forensic investigation report on the causes of the structural failure."
The request does not specifically name the Champlain Towers South building. But the firm must have high-rise experience and a background in reinforced concrete construction. And the engineer must have “no conflicts or associations with the building or the Town of Surfside,” and “would be willing to be a liaison with NIST engineers and communicate well with MDPD homicide investigators.”
The email asks for a brief confirmation reply, emailed by July 30 to Francisco.Caldera@miamidade.gov. The responses are only to maintain a list of the firms that maintain they have met the requirements laid out in the email, says the survey.
At ENR publication time, Miami-Dade County and MDPD had not responded to questions and requests for interviews about the survey and other subjects related to the condo failure.
Burkett says it is his duty to find the cause or causes of the June 24 fiasco, especially because there are other buildings of similar age and construction in Surfside. “We have hundreds of lives hanging in the balance,” he says. “People need to know if their buildings are safe.”