A 48-unit condominium building in Waukesha, Wis., that was in imminent threat of collapse due to a rusted structural frame and columns has had its residents evacuated.

The City of Waukesha, on Dec. 2, deemed that the Horizon West Condominium building at 315 N. West Ave. is unsafe for occupancy.  

65 residents were ordered to evacuate immediately from the building that was originally constructed in 1966.

McGuire Contractors, Inc., of Pewaukee, Wis., was called in to temporarily stabilize the six-story building with new steel bracing.

Steve McGuire, president, said his company provided lateral bracing for a column that had rusted. He said other columns also have deteriorated.

“The building is not safe to be in, even with the temporary bracing,” he said.

He attributed the issues to fireproofing.

"Water migrated through the concrete balcony and was soaked up by the fire proofing surrounding the structural steel, which was supporting the balcony," he said. "The fireproofing acted like a sponge. The introduction of the water against the structural steel for 55 years accelerated the rusting of the structural steel."

He said he was not sure how long the steel should have lasted, according to the original building specifications, “but it is longer than 55 years.”

In a news conference Friday, Fire Chief Steve Howard said the column that needed to be braced is on the side of the building and had two balconies attached to it at multiple points throughout its length.

Removing the balconies revealed that the bracing was insufficient.

“Instead of having bracing throughout you had bracing only at the top and bottom which can cause it to buckle,” he said.

He said his department does annual fire inspections, but no annual structural inspections of buildings in the city are required.

“We don’t ask for an engineering report unless something looks amiss, something looks off, that type of thing,” he said. “There is no requirement for a structural inspection that I am aware of unless a deficiency is identified.”

A representative of the city’s building department was not at the conference.

The city outlined the history of its interactions with the condo association in a news release on its website.

In June of 2020 the city received a complaint about the conditions of the balconies and ordered them not to be used by residents. It also ordered that structural issues with the balconies be remedied, and ordered the owner to conduct an engineering analysis and provide it to the city.  

The fire department completed additional inspections throughout 2020 and 2021 as the condominium association attempted to hire engineers and contractors to rectify the issues at the building.

In September, the city ordered fencing installed around the building due to the worsening condition of the balconies and falling debris from the structure.

A month later, the condo association began removing the balconies, which revealed deficiencies of the structural frame of the building as well as the columns. Additional inspections by fire department, the city’s third-party, independent structural engineer, and the engineer for the building were done throughout November.

A preliminary structural report by an independent structural engineer completed on Nov. 30 revealed deficiencies in the load-bearing structure of the building.

The city oversaw the evacuation throughout the evening of Dec. 2. Due to the possible collapse zone, the properties at 323 N. West Ave. and 307 N. West Ave. also were evacuated.

Howard said the city’s decision to evacuate the building was not influenced by the collapse in June of a wing of Champlain Towers South, a 12-story condominium complex in Surfside, Fla. Ninety-eight people were killed in the collapse.  

"There is no tying of the two together, but in the back of your mind you are certainly aware of that tragedy,” Howard said. "When a structural engineer tells you that everybody needs to get out it’s pretty straightforward," he added.

Waukesha City Administrator Kevin Lahner didn’t respond to calls or emails. Howard said on Monday that he would not be commenting further that day on Horizon West.