Repairs on the way for Madison House condo tower as vigilance on the rise amid Florida collapse

I-Team report leads to code violations
A 19-story apartment tower, beige in color, checkered with windows and balconies, sits behind a line of trees and in front of a partly cloudy sky.
Posted at 10:24 AM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 10:34:09-04

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati building inspectors have ordered the Madison House condominium tower to repair windows, walls, concrete and rebar in its three-story parking garage.

But that’s only one of the major changes underway in the 19-story high rise, where condo owner Edgar Ragouzis sounded the alarm about structural issues by talking to the WCPO 9 I-Team July 16.

The Madison House Board of Managers announced a “façade restoration” program for the building, to be completed by next year, along with a new engineering study for the garage and concrete repairs to a basement storage room.

In the meantime, Madison House owners have raised new concerns about the building’s structural integrity – while demanding an independent engineering study for the entire building.

“This kind of exposed rebar and falling concrete inside our main building did not happen overnight. And this is NOT cosmetic work, but also structural,” condo owner Aerin Shaw wrote in a July 25 email to more than 80 owners. “I think we have a right to know what condition our building is in, and how much money is being planned to fix it.”

The long-simmering dispute is an example of how condominium dwellers have become more vigilant after Champlain Towers collapsed in June, killing 98 people in Surfside, Florida.

Madison House resident Edgar Ragouzis has battled its condo board for several years, leading to a 2020 lawsuit in which the board is trying to foreclose on Ragouzis, while he alleges the board failed to properly allocate reserves for “exposed structural concrete.”

The Madison House board has not responded to the I-Team’s questions. It provided new details on planned building repairs in recent memos that condo owners shared with the I-Team.

In a July 26 memo, the board said it hired the engineering firm SRES Inc. to inspect the building’s façade in May 2020 and perform “walk-through visual reviews of the garage” each year from 2019 to 2021.

“Though the west wall requires significant repairs,” the memo said of the garage, “it is not load-bearing and not a structural concern.”

The memo said an engineering assessment will be completed this year while façade repairs are scheduled for completion in 2022.

The building’s manager, Towne Properties LLC, declined to comment on specific allegations raised by Ragouzis and Shaw. But the head of Towne’s asset management division told the I-Team the building is safe.

“The building has been managed with care for a long time,” said Derek Wehman, a Towne Properties vice president. “An engineer has been involved in the building, inspecting it regularly since 2004.”

Shaw questioned the thoroughness of those inspections while showing the I-Team water-damaged concrete and exposed rusty rebar in the Garden Room, a basement storage room on the building’s northeast corner.

“That rebar is cracked,” Shaw said, pointing to a quarter-inch separation in one of the metal bars that support the room’s concrete ceiling. “You can see the rebar is now weakened to the point where it’s broken. This is a structural wall.”

Shaw said the Garden Room damage reminded her of pre-collapse photos at Champlain Towers.

“My unit (is) straight above this. If this goes, I go,” Shaw said. “I’ve seen the simulation of Surfside. It doesn’t take too many pylons before the whole building comes down. So, people think, ‘Well, it’s all OK.’ It’s not OK. One pylon can mean a very devastating thing for this building.”

Aerin Shaw, a Madison House condo owner, demonstrates the separation between concrete and rebar in a basement storage room.

In a July 27 memo, the Madison House board said concrete spauling in the Garden Room was "likely due to the failure of the water proofing system" and "does not compromise structural integrity of the building."

The memo added, "a current structural assessment of the main building has been approved by the board."

Shaw is a marketing executive with a local consulting firm who emailed a complaint to the Cincinnati Department of Buildings and Inspection last Wednesday. The email included a link to WCPO’s July 16 report on the Madison House garage and a 2019 Power Point presentation she sent to the Madison House board about leaks, cracks and broken windows in the garage.

“Clearly, as seen in last Friday’s WCPO report, virtually NOTHING has been done to repair the structure” since 2019, Shaw wrote to city officials last week.

Shaw’s July 21 email led to a city inspection the next day and three violations against Madison House.

"Minor deterioration of the concrete on the underside of the parking surface with rusted rebar exposed," Inspector Scott Bohnert wrote. "Will issue orders."

On Monday, city inspectors ordered a garage overhaul that includes the repair of “deteriorated concrete and exposed rebar,” replacement of broken windows and restoration of “deteriorated leaning or bulged masonry walls.”

That’s not enough to satisfy Ragouzis, who wants “a full structural integrity report” on the building. Shaw is pushing for a report that’s independent and invasive.

“The very best that could happen is an independent engineering report by a highly reputable, new engineering company that does a full, invasive engineering study,” she said. “By that I mean not just tapping on the concrete and saying, ‘Ooh, it’s fine.’ You actually have to drill into the concrete. You have to do chemical analysis.”

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