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Longboat Key Monday, Jul. 5, 2021 11 months ago

Longboat Key condo owners taking precautions after Surfside collapse

The deadly Surfside collapse has many Longboat Key condo owners looking into what precautions they should take.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Ed Krepela is confident in his fellow board members at Fairway Bay making the right decisions. 

“We’ve always had good leadership from the time I got here, and I’ve been on the board now — oh, gosh — longer than I probably should be,” Krepela said of the governing board of his complex, the Atrium.

The Atrium features two identical five-story buildings, which were built in the late 1980s. Over the years, issues have cropped up there, but Krepela and former Mayor George Spoll, who lives at Fairway Bay I, said they were quickly addressed by the board. 

Even though George Spoll's tenure on the Town Commission ended in March, he still leads the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force and he serves on the board of directors for the Federation of Longboat Key Condominiums.

“It’s clear that the Atrium, which is the third phase of Fairway, had some substantial cracks years ago, and they were responsible in fixing it,” Spoll said.

June’s collapse of 13-story condo tower in Surfside killed at least 27 people with dozens of others still unaccounted for. It’s led condominium complexes and associations across the state to begin examining what precautionary steps to take to ensure residents’ safety. The town of Longboat Key issued a message on June 25 to condominium boards, managers and residents, urging attention to maintenance issues, even ones that might seem small now. 

Most of Longboat Key’s housing stock is made up of condominiums built before the 1980s. About 72% of the available housing stock is more than 25 years ago and nearly half of the island’s housing was built more than 35 years ago, according to Town Finance Director Susan Smith’s annual financial report.

Given the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key condos must deal with the effects of saltwater oxidation and corrosion.

“What works inland doesn’t work along the coasts when it comes corrosion and saltwater effects,” Krepela said.

It has prompted Spoll to contact Longboat Key’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department to learn more about the town’s procedures in the building process. Spoll leads the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force and serves on the board of directors for the Federation of Longboat Key Condominiums.

“I am concerned and want to find out as to what procedures exist in the inspection process during construction, because the very issue that you’re talking about begins much earlier than the ownership and maintenance required by the condominium,” Spoll said. “And, what is obvious, if the building is not built properly in the first place, it is doomed to be the very problem that we’re seeing over on the East Coast, and that may or may not be part of the contributing factor in what happened there.”

Authorities are still determining what caused the Surfside collapse.

Spoll’s expertise as a builder dates back to his professional career. He also served as a member of the Building, Standards and Review Commission of the town of West Hartford, Connecticut.

Sea Gate Club Condominium Association at 2425 Gulf of Mexico Drive underwent some construction during the last several months.

Spoll mentioned how the Surfside collapse brings about greater problems than the short-term fix of requiring regular inspections over a period of time.

“In our case, what’s so, so important is the rise in sea level may well change the ability of the supports under the building, and we have to contend with that,” Spoll said.

Sea Gate Club resident and civil engineer Graham Toft moved to Longboat Key in 2002. Even though Sea Gate was constructed in 1972, Toft said he’s confident the condominium’s leadership is doing enough to keep residents safe.

“We’re fortunate in the sense that seven years ago, we began to be aware of the fact that the building was aging,” Toft said.

Toft said Sea Gate has spent more than $10 million during a seven-year span to make upgrades to windows, repair balconies and make roof repairs. He serves as chair of the Windows and Exterior Building Committee.

“We didn’t have it easy, I mean we had some owners that were quite reluctant to do anything about this,” Toft said. “We had owners who didn’t want the engineering assessment done because they were afraid the engineering assessment would require the work.”

Toft said it was important for owners to communicate with their condominium boards if they’re feeling uneasy.

 Toft said many of Sea Gate’s property values have doubled in the 18-month period it took for the condo to make property upgrades.

Krepla said it's important for condo buyers to ask specific questions.

“One of the key questions is, ‘Do you have reserves? And if you have reserves, what percentage?’” Krepla said, adding that such reserves can head off the need for costly extra assessments for residents to pay. “It’s important because no one likes surprises.”

Town Manager Tom Harmer said in Broward and Dade counties, they have recertification requirements. After 40 years, private property owners in condos have to hire a structural engineer to evaluate their property, and then also provide a copy of the report for the city every 10 years after that.

“We’re looking at their regulations to see how that might apply here, and if that makes sense for something the commissions may want to consider as a potential change in our ordinance or code,” Harmer said.


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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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