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Palm Beach County took the first step Tuesday toward an enhanced inspection policy for taller buildings in the wake of the deadly condo collapse in Surfside.
Broward and Miami-Dade counties require structural and electrical safety inspections for condo buildings every 40 years. Inspections are carried out every 10 years, and building owners must make corrections on any issues that are found.
Palm Beach County, however, has no such law. Currently, inspectors approve new buildings, then inspect again if someone files a complaint or alerts them of potential unsafe buildings.
Doug Wise, Palm Beach County’s building department director, said building officials throughout the county agreed the 40-year policy is too long and that a new policy would likely differ from Broward’s and Miami-Dade’s.
Wise said officials discussed a potential “graduated scale based on exposure of the building, the type of construction, the height of the building and perceived risk,” but he added that they’re still working on determining the recertification requirements.
Commissioners didn’t vote on any new policy changes during Tuesday’s meeting, but a vote could happen during the next commission meeting, on Aug. 17.
Tuesday was the first time County Commissioners discussed building safety publicly since the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo on June 24. The death toll in the collapse rose to 95 on Tuesday; 14 more people are unaccounted for.
Wise said the building department is doing an inventory of all major buildings in the county and sorting them by height and use.
He added that he “believes the buildings in Palm Beach County are safe and the residents can rely on the building officials and inspectors in this county.”
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“What happened [in Surfside] is a tragedy,” Wise said. “But there’s more going on with that. They knew about things in 2016. They knew about things in 2018.
“In this county, that wouldn’t have happened. If we knew back then in 2018, there would’ve been a placard on this building: ’You fix this in so many days or you’re going to vacate.’ And that’s what we end up doing. We have to make those hard choices.”
County commissioners agreed that more proactive measures, such as recertification, need to be taken in the county, but they differed on how much further they should go. While Commissioner Robert Weinroth was in favor of recertification, he cautioned against adding additional measures until investigators officially determine the cause of the Surfside condo collapse.
However, County Commissioner Maria Sachs said she’s “felt strongly since the day after [the collapse] that we need an audit of our buildings.”
“Some of our buildings were built in the ’60s and ’70s,” Sachs said. “And since that time, we’ve had hurricanes, climate change, rising seas. What we need is to know that our structures are safe, whether it’s a school, a condo, a commercial building.
“I think the buck stops right here at local government to protect the people of our county.”