A Key West condo building at risk of being condemned faces a $10 million repair bill

·3 min read

Key West’s chief building official on Monday said he will not condemn a troubled condominium building at this time, but he gave the condo association a strict timeline for repairs.

Raj Ramsingh’s decision gives the residents at the 111-unit Santa Clara condominium building a reprieve.

After hearing an engineer say the building is repairable and not under the threat of collapse, Ramsingh gave the condo board deadlines so the city can track the progress of repairs to the 1980-era building in the New Town section of the city.

“However, if we do not see positive movement according to this order, this is still not off the table,” Ramsingh said of condemnation after a hearing at City Hall that lasted under an hour.

He gave the board 15 days to deliver a plan to address immediate safety issues and 45 days to come up with the plan for initial repairs to the building that includes how to pay for them.

Initial repairs must start by Jan. 17, 2022.

Since Sept. 1, when Ramsingh ordered the hearing, Santa Clara residents had been bracing for a ruling that would have forced them to leave their homes in a city where affordable housing is already scant. In an inspection that was part of the city’s response to the tragic condo collapse in Surfside, Ramsingh said he found major cracks in walls and stairwells and exposed steel in vertical columns, along with overloaded floors and roofs.

Ramsingh said in the Sept. 1 order that the building would be uninhabitable if repairs were not made immediately.

“It is not our intention to condemn a building given our situation with housing in this city,” Ramsingh said Monday. “But it is also not our intention to have a building that is unsafe for our citizens.”

The condo board plans to approve a $10 million assessment in order to make repairs, according to board lawyer David Van Loon.

They would likely have to collect 10 percent of the assessment to get financing, Van Loon said, adding that they don’t yet know the full extent of the repairs.

“It may be higher than $10 million,” he said. The board is set to vote on Thursday.

Thomas Cheever, an engineer hired by the condo board, testified that the building is repairable and that construction could start shortly after the new year.

Cheever said there are some “life safety issues,” such as the potential for falling debris, with the south stairwell tower in the worst shape. But as a whole, Santa Clara is safe for residents, he said.

“I found nothing to substantiate there was any threat of a partial or even catastrophic collapse,” Cheever said. “I found no reason to ask residents to vacate.”

J.L. Sanders, a consulting engineer who has worked on the building since the 2000s, said his firm has made several recommendations for repairs to the condo board.

“Many times they got the work done,” Sanders said. “Sometimes it was reduced for various reasons and we weren’t able to do the full project.”

Sanders, though, said he couldn’t comment on whether the building was inhabitable, saying the condo board needs another firm to do the evaluation, design and oversight of construction.

Santa Clara’s property management company quit on Sept. 1 over the building’s condition. ICAMCO president Peter E. Batty said the company spent several years advising the condo board to do more to address the building’s conditions.

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