“It’s something the town manager should look at between now and when we address the budget because we don't want to be sitting here like they are in Surfside in the future,’’ Councilman Mark Weissman said July 13.
Like other communities in Palm Beach County, the town is waiting for recommendations from a countywide task force of building officials on inspection benchmarks.
Unlike Miami-Dade and Broward, Palm Beach County does not have a law requiring inspections every 40 years.
“We anticipate in the next 60 to 90 days to have some kind of standards and guidelines requiring inspections of buildings,’’ Town Manager Robert Kellogg told the council. “I anticipate instead of 40 years it will be probably be a minimum of 25 years and then an inspection each 10 years after that.’’
South Palm Beach has 27 condominium buildings, 20 built before 1982.
When new rules are enacted, they will likely come with a price tag — not only for the mandated inspections of condo buildings but also for possible repairs and renovations recommended from those inspections.
While Weissman said in an interview after the meeting that he agrees that condominiums should be responsible for covering the inspections, he said the town should still consider at least helping with the costs, perhaps by creating a grant program.
“They should pay for it themselves, but I don't want a tragedy in our town either,’’ he said.
The council is expected to discuss the idea during its budget workshop on Aug. 31.
Many condo buildings in town have been proactive with inspections and renovations, even before the Champlain Towers South collapse, town officials said. They said they would hope all condo buildings are taking the same approach.
“Kicking the can down the road seems to be difficult within the condominium community and not facing the reality of living in a building that’s constantly being attacked by the elements,’’ said Weissman, who lives in an oceanview unit on the sixth floor of the Dune Deck, built in 1990.
“I think it's time we should get the word out to our buildings to make sure they're doing the proper things and if there's a way we can build into the budget some way of assisting them with the inspection process, and if it means not lowering the millage rate in order to accomplish that, I think the safety of our community is paramount and more important than the few dollars that might be saved.’’
No condo buildings were singled out during the council meeting as being at risk. But the Surfside collapse is on the minds of many condo dwellers in town, Mayor Bonnie Fischer said.
“With the tragedy in Surfside, we have been getting some calls, but we are waiting until the task force comes up and gives us directives on proper inspections. I know some people are getting nervous and want their building inspected right now,’’ she told the council.
The council opened the meeting with a moment of silence for the Surfisde victims.
Only two residents attended the meeting, including a condo president who thanked the council for being proactive with their calls for condominiums to undergo timely inspections and repairs.
“I wish there were more people here,’’ said Jody Barrett of Horizon West, an eight-story condo built in 1974 next door to Town Hall. “Nobody wants to see their assessments or their fees raised (but) it's like, you know what? Pay now or pay later. It's all about being safe.’’
Horizon West is structurally safe, Barrett said, thanks to recent concrete restorations of balconies and catwalks and other renovations.
For example, she said, the condo installed cameras in two plumbing stacks to monitor the conditions of pipes. And the association passed an amendment requiring residents who want to do renovations to first open the walls to check the conditions of pipes.
When the inspection rules from the task force are enacted, they will lead to more work for companies that provide inspections.
“It’s going to happen, codes are going to change,’’ said Barrett, who works in real estate. “But I don't think there’s enough people. We can't get inspections done now.’’
The mayor also called for a town-wide inspection of seawalls.
“To me that is one of the major things that needs to be looked at for the integrity of the buildings. I lived through it. I know what it is. Thank God we didn't collapse,’’ she said.
Fischer lives in the Imperial House, where pounding surf whipped by Tropical Storm Noel led to the collapse of the building's seawall in 2007. At the time, many residents didn’t know that the condo was built in 1961 on pilings, which she said saved the building from collapsing into the sea.
“We were within, the engineer told us, six hours of collapsing before they finally realized we were on pilings. If we weren't, the way our building was built it would have been like dominoes and down,’’ she said.
“We really need to look at the seawalls. That's a real Achilles' heel in this town because we have no access to the beach and there's no way for anybody to even address or repair the seawalls.’’