Inspection of the Emerald Grande turns up no major structural deficiencies

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

DESTIN — City officials have completed the first of two scheduled inspections of local condominiums and found no evidence of serious structural damage at the Emerald Grande. 

"Community Development staff did not observe any deficiencies ... that would warrant further investigation," a report obtained Tuesday by the Northwest Florida Daily News said.

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The inspection was conducted at the request of Karen Preslock, a frequent visitor to Destin who told city officials in an email she had stayed several times at the Emerald Grande and "noticed continued deterioration of the buildings."

"We were very concerned (on two) recent trips about continual 2 inches of water on (the) 4th floor parking garage...several spaces against the harbor side of the wall were taped off ... That wall has major cracks in it," the email said.

An inspection by Destin officials revealed no structural problems at the Emerald Grande. City inspectors also plan to visit Shoreline Towers condominiums.

Preslock's email was dated June 30, and she stated she had decided to voice her concerns in the wake of the collapse of the Champlain Towers East Condominium in Surfside, near Miami.

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The site visit was made by Destin Building Official Noell Bell, Engineer Donald Smith and Community Development Director Louis Zunguze, according to the report.

They were accompanied by Emerald Grande President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Knowles and Rodney Chamberlain, an engineer and vice president of Marina Development. 

They toured the Emerald Grande's basement, all levels of the parking garage and the area of the fourth floor mentioned by Preslock in her email.

They were looking for four specific clues of structural deficiencies, including broken or cracked concrete, exposed rebar, chemical or rust staining and "horizontal or vertical deflection of structural/building members" — the degree to which a structure's elements, such as a column, wall, beam or floor slab, bends or curves.

Nothing that would warrant further investigation was found, the report said. 

"Regarding the fourth floor, there was no water observed standing on the floor and a crack was observed on the harbor side wall but did not show structural deficiency consistent with the elements" inspectors were looking for, it said.

Peter Bos, the developer who in 2007 oversaw construction of the Emerald Grande at the base of the Marler Bridge, said he was under the impression the inspection was conducted because someone had noticed the condominium seemed to be leaning. He said this is an oft-mentioned optical illusion created by the two multi-story buildings of the structure not sitting exactly parallel to one another.

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Bos said the Emerald Grande employs some 30 staff members who maintain "constant surveillance" for structural problems. 

"We don't do anything in particular (maintenance wise). We just care for the building," he said. 

The inspection of the Emerald Grande was the first of two the city was scheduled to undertake as a result of fears expressed after the Surfside tragedy.

Shoreline Towers is a Destin condominium complex comprised of four buildings that have each reached or passed 40 years of age. 

Workers frame out rooms at the Emerald Grande during its construction in 2005. A recent inspection by the city of Destin found no structural problems.

The decision to inspect was sparked by what appeared to be a Facebook request to "put the hammer down on Shoreline Towers." A screenshot of the post was obtained along with other information regarding condominium inspections through a public records request.

City inspectors will go into Shoreline Towers following a review of an engineering report that outlines a scope of work for repairs that need to be undertaken at the condominium, according to Destin spokeswoman Catherine Card.

A Monday phone call to the Shoreline Towers Homeowners Association was not immediately returned. 

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Even as Destin staff conducts inspections to satisfy the worries of residents and visitors, a proposal is being prepared through which the City Council could either establish regular municipal inspections of condominiums or require the homeowner's associations that oversee the structures to conduct their own inspections and file a report.

The Emerald Grande project is seen in this October 2005 file photograph, with several levels in one of the wings taking shape.

At their July 6 meeting, Destin City Council members voted to have the staff explore methods by which the city might initiate an inspection program to periodically monitor the structural health of its condominiums. 

If the council decides to move forward on a recommendation, Destin would become one of the first governments in Florida to take decisive action in the aftermath of the deadly Surfside collapse.

Bos said he doesn't like the idea of city inspections. He said such an endeavor would prove costly and create a great deal of liability.

"That's a lot of responsibility, and God forbid they didn't catch something; they would be held responsible," he said. "The city doesn't want to be out at the airport inspecting airplanes and they don't want to be inspecting high-rise condominiums. It's not a city role. That's why you have professional associations."

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