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After Surfside, Chicago Examines Structural Safety Pros Weigh In

Champlain Towers condo in Surfside, Florida

After the devastating and deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers condo in Surfside, Florida, high-rise dwellers throughout the country are wondering how their cities’ building and inspection codes will prevent such a tragedy where they live. WTTW News compiles the reactions of several Chicago industry professionals in a recent report. 

According to the report, the Chicago Department of Buildings says there are still too many unknowns to comment directly on the Surfside collapse, but that Chicago has strong building codes for its broad shoulders. “All plans for high-rise development undergo multiple reviews from all relevant disciplines—especially structural—to help ensure long-term safety,” the department says in a statement. “As further protection, owners must obtain a certificate of occupancy, which has its own set of requirements, prior to allowing any occupants in the building.”

Derek Boeldt, president of the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois, says that a collapse like Surfside is “really such an extremely rare event that the number of variables involved that would have to go wrong for something like that to happen is almost unthinkable.” 

Kris Kasten suggests that the focus should be on Surfside and the people directly impacted by the tragedy, but says he “can certainly understand where associations, unit owners, boards across the nation are going to wonder … could it happen within my association? I think those questions are good to raise and have a conversation about—and not start jumping to conclusions.”

Evan McKenzie, a law school instructor and head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as the author of two books on condo and HOA governance, says more oversight and regulations might be necessary. “Condo owners and their directors control their own assessment levels. There is insufficient regulation of what they do to make sure they have enough set aside,” he says, warning that condos with insufficient money in reserve are likely to defer important building maintenance.

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