CINCINNATI — Cincinnati’s building department has ordered the Madison House condominium tower to hire an outside contractor with specialized knowledge to “restore the structural integrity” of concrete and exposed rebar in the parking garage and basement of the 60-year-old building.
The order follows weeks of complaints by Madison House owners about crumbling concrete, exposed rebar and balcony leaks that left some wondering whether the Hyde Park structure is safe.
The owners have been talking to the WCPO 9 I-Team because they were disturbed by similarities between the damage in their building and the collapsed Champlain Towers South structure in Surfside, Florida.
“I think they have a duty to oversee the structural integrity of all high-rises,” said Hamilton County Muncipal Judge Berti Helmick, who owns a third-floor unit at Madison House. “Surfside was only about half the size of our building. It’s not enough to rely upon self-reporting. There should be forensic engineering required of any building over a certain size or over a certain age. Buildings age and we have to be vigilant that the residents housed in these buildings are safe.”
The Madison House did not respond Wednesday to two WCPO I-Team requests for comment. Our reports have documented cracked walls, leaky ceilings and rusty rebar in two prior reports on the 19-story tower built in 1961. City inspections on July 22 and July 30 followed both reports.
The first inspection led to three violations in a three-story garage attached to the building’s southwest corner. The second inspection led to a more serious order to “repair structural members” in the garage and basement.
“There are deteriorated concrete and exposed rebar in the garage, garden room and basement areas of the principal building and garage,” said the Aug. 4 document. “Repair or replace deteriorated structural members … and otherwise restore the structural integrity of the damaged structural elements.”
The Aug. 4 inspection included a new requirement that wasn’t found in the July 22 order.
“Architectural drawings and building permits are required for this work,” the order said. “A design professional registered in Ohio is required to prepare the repair solution and inspect the work as a Special Inspector.”
Ohio’s building code defines special inspections as necessary in projects “requiring special expertise to ensure compliance with approved construction documents and referenced standards.” Cincinnati records say special inspectors are necessary in projects with “complexity, size, or special conditions.”
Despite the beefed-up orders, some Madison House residents are not yet satisfied.
“It’s a start,” said Edgar Ragouzis, who has battled the Madison House Board of Managers for several years over leaks in his balcony and others.
Ragouzis claims the condo board has failed to reserve enough funding for façade deterioration caused by a lack of water control in windows, decks and enclosed balconies.
“They need to be more proactive,” Ragouzis said of city inspectors. “They need to examine the entire structure, including every patio.”
Judge Helmick said the building has safety issues beyond those revealed so far. She received a "mild traumatic brain injury" last October when she fell on a stairway between the building's loading dock and its parking garage. She recently learned the building replaced a loose railing on those stairs with a new railing that does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"I’m not the type of person who wants to create problems for the building," Judge Helmick said. "I would wish that they would do this on their own. Certainly, the city should come out and check the repairs and see that they were done in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I would like them to do that."
Judge Helmick would also like the Madison House condo board to send owners a copy of engineering studies conducted on the building in recent years.
In a five-page memo to Madison House condo owners in July, the board said its engineering firm, SRES Inc., completed an “engineering inspection” of the building’s façade in March 2020. Helmick said that report should be shared with Madison House residents, along with an “engineering assessment” of the building's garage, slated for completion this year.
“In a perfect world there should be full transparency,” Helmick said. “It is very frustrating to hear (about problems) piecemeal. I don’t want to be placated or condescended to and to be told, ‘We’ve decided to blacktop’ when there are obvious problems with the building.”