When a gas leak ignited in the penthouse boiler room of a brand-new Sunny Isles Beach condo, the explosion tore through walls and down the 34-story tower’s service elevator shaft, knocking out or buckling doors from their tracks all the way to the ground floor.
The building’s fire alarm, ventilation and air-conditioning systems were all damaged extensively, as were the machinery and cabs of a passenger elevator, according to an inspection report filed by the city’s building department. When the accident happened, some residents were just days away from starting to move in. Now they’ll have to wait.
The damage at Château Beach, a luxury tower where units sell for an average of $3 million, was so severe that it could take as long as six months to repair, said Daniel Whiteman, vice chairman of Coastal Construction, the project’s general contractor.
“The majority of repairs can be completed within the next two to three months,” Whiteman said. “The key factor is how quickly the elevator company can rebuild and recertify the two passenger elevator shafts [on the building’s east side] … we may be able to have several crews working simultaneously.”
Several units on the top floors also suffered water damage when the sprinklers went off and will need repairs
The city of Sunny Isles Beach revoked the building’s temporary certificate of occupancy soon after the accident, although an engineering firm hired by the city found that the tower remained structurally sound.
It’s still not clear what caused the explosion, which blew out parts of the north wall on the building’s top floor, sending debris flying to the street below and injuring six people, including construction workers, two firefighters and a guest at the neighboring Monaco Resort hotel. A safety net and barricade now stretch across the gaping hole.
6 monthsTime it may take until repairs and reinspections are completed at Château Beach
What is known, according to the Sunny Isles building department, is that city inspectors discovered in July that the tower’s gas meter had been installed partially on city land. “The meter encroached more than six inches into Samson Park,” wrote Sunny Isles building official Clayton Parker in a report the Miami Herald obtained through a public records request.
Coastal agreed to relocate the meter 50 feet to the west, and TECO Peoples Gas workers moved it on Oct. 1, according to Parker. During the work on the meter, the gas had to be turned off. The next day, two men working for a plumbing subcontractor tried to “purge,” or remove the air, from the gas line so the system could be switched on again. They didn’t realize that gas had been leaking into the boiler room and down the elevator shafts. Then it all blew up. People in nearby buildings said they felt the walls shake when the Château exploded.
“There are several groups of forensic engineers reviewing the schedule of who did what and what happened when,” Whiteman said. “At this point, no one knows.”
One worker remains hospitalized, although the other has been released, Whiteman said.
The State Fire Marshal is also investigating the cause of the explosion but has not yet released its final report.
Kayla Bailey, a spokeswoman for the fire marshal, said it appeared workers left the electricity on in the boiler room when they were cleaning the lines and that may have led to the explosion. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupation Safety & Health Administration is also looking into the accident, according to records posted on the agency’s website.
The city cited Coastal and the developer for not purging the gas lines properly and not requesting an inspection before starting the work.
As a result of the damage, the passenger and service elevators on the Château Beach’s east side will need to be repaired and reinspected for permits, Parker wrote in the report. The building’s “life safety systems,” which include its fire alarm and ventilation systems, will also need to be repaired and re-permitted.
“The Château building continues to be declared unsafe until all repairs are made,” Parker wrote.
The Château building continues to be declared unsafe until all repairs are made.
Clayton Parker, Sunny Isles Beach building official
For the project’s developer, it’s a public-relations nightmare.
“It really was bad luck,” said a rival developer who did not want to be named. “It could have happened to any one of us. Someone doesn’t pay attention, and you have years of work blow up in your face.”
Château Group, owned by the Grosskopf family of Argentina, is developing two other ultra-luxury towers in South Florida, one in Sunny Isles and another in Surfside. The company has also built projects in Argentina and Uruguay.
When asked how long repairs would take and how much they would cost, Château sent a brief statement through a spokeswoman from PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
“We are working vigorously to assess every aspect of the building, bringing in best-in-class experts to evaluate and counsel,” the statement read. “We understand the urgency and are working through all the logistics thoroughly and efficiently.”