Three weeks after avoiding a condemnation order, a Key West condominium complex received a sternly worded warning from the city’s building department about the condo board’s and its engineer’s failure to act on urgent repairs.
Key West City Manager Patti McLauchlin updated the city commission about the situation at their meeting on Oct. 5, moments after Chief Building Official Raj Ramsingh had emailed Thomas Cheever, Santa Clara Condominiums’ engineer, and condo board vice president Travis Doll. (Ramsingh said he does not have contact information for board president Oliver Kofoid.)
“The building department is taking this issue very seriously and unfortunately it doesn’t seem you (Thomas Cheever) or the board members are doing the same,” Ramsingh wrote. “As of today, there is no life safety protection in place to prevent someone from getting seriously injured or killed if any concrete breaks loose and falls. There is no shoring in the south stairwell.”
Ramsingh also criticizes Cheever for “showing no interest” in hearing from two men with in-depth knowledge of the building’s design and history.
“One of them even helped design the building. This in itself really makes me question whether I should have accepted your engineering evaluation of a building you had seen once for a few hours,” Ramsingh wrote.
Ramsingh had previously held a condemnation hearing for Santa Clara, 3312 Northside Dr., on Sept. 13, when he gave the condo board and engineer Cheever a temporary reprieve from condemnation, provided the parties would immediately remedy some urgent life-safety issues at the deteriorating building.
“I will not condemn the building, but this is still not off the table,” Ramsingh told the condo association board, unit owners and some of their tenants who were present at the Sept. 13 hearing. “I don’t want these necessary repairs to fall by the wayside as has occurred in the past.”
The building’s former engineer JL Sanders had withdrawn from his position with the 111-unit Santa Clara, citing significant safety concerns and large-scale repairs. “Due to the extent of the repairs needed, I really am not in a position to continue. They need a firm with more capacity than me,” Sanders said on Sept. 13.
In response, the Santa Clara condo board in early September hired Tampa-based engineer Thomas Cheever, who completed a three-hour site visit and submitted a report to the city dated Sept. 11, Ramsingh said at the hearing.
“There is no doubt, the building has suffered significant damage over the years,” Cheever said at the hearing. “It’s clear the board has been ignoring this for years. I’ve never seen such systematic deterioration that’s apparent at Santa Clara. But I can say with certainty that it can be repaired.
“I found nothing to substantiate any threat of partial or catastrophic collapse. That said, should there be a significant weather event, the building should be re-evaluated.”
Current estimates place the cost of repairs between $8 million and $10 million, according to the most recent engineering report.
The condo board was expected to pass a special assessment on Sept. 16 that would collect additional fees from each owner to fund the repairs and repay a bank loan.
It was unknown as of presstime on Oct. 6 whether the special assessment had been passed or whether the bank financing had come through.
At the end of the Sept. 13 hearing, Ramsingh gave the association and Cheever 15 days to submit a plan to address the most pressing life-safety concerns, including the danger of falling debris from concrete spalling. He also gave the board 45 days from Sept. 13 to submit a complete repair plan.