Stucco Blues: How One Condominium Deals With a Construction Emergency, Part 3

Welcome again to Stucco Blues!  If you recall the last two columns, our subject condominium, only a few years old, had discovered that large pieces of stucco were falling off of the building.  So the board shut down the majority of exterior areas around the building (including the pool, tennis court and recreation deck) and immediately began interviewing contractors for a very large and expensive restoration/reconstruction project.  When we left off, the board had chosen the final contractor and was waiting to begin work.

It is now almost two months into our restoration project, and it has been a doozy.  Up to five swing stages (those large mobile platforms you see dropped along the sides of buildings) are operating on a constant basis, and this is only to complete a small portion of the building (the side that faces the pool, so that we can reopen this extremely important South Florida amenity).  Still, as with any large project, you tend to run into unforeseen issues.  For example, upon removing large areas of stucco it became evident that the stucco had been used to “square up” the building in areas where the concrete wasn’t poured exactly right.  For example, one corner of the building may have only come to an 85 degree angle, instead of a 90 degree perpendicular edge.  Now, obviously you can’t build a building and leave it cockeyed.  Most of the time the non-square areas would have been built up square with structural cement–in this case they were built with stucco.  We have seen areas where the stucco is six or more inches thick, huge slabs that were hanging onto the building by no more than caulk.  Normally, stucco is meant to be applied as a thin sheet, perhaps no more than a quarter inch.  The way the stucco was applied in these areas was completely untenable, and justified the board’s decision to go ahead with the full reconstruction.  It does also raise the basic reality that any construction or restoration project will have unforeseen costs.  In this case, the board can’t leave the building off-kilter–the non-square areas will now need to be built up with structural material, and THEN covered with a thin layer of finishing stucco–adding to the cost of the project.

Nothing ever goes quite as quickly as expected, either.  We’ve had a couple of near misses from hurricanes this season, and each time it looks close the contractor has to secure their equipment and swing stages and stop working.  Between that, and dealing with the frequent Florida rains, we’re perhaps a couple of weeks behind our original schedule.  But things are looking up–as early as this weekend management feels that they will be able to open the pool on Saturday and Sunday, when the contractors are not working!  This will be a gigantic boon to residents, who have been without their favorite amenity for many months now, through almost the entire summer.  But the board and the contractor’s initial reticence to open up the pool proved to be a fair decision–not only has the restoration project created significant debris, some of which has fallen around the pool area, the dog walk and even reportedly on the neighbor’s parking lot (very small, lightweight pieces, yes, but debris all the same), but the deconstruction uncovered areas of stucco that we even thicker and less attached too the building than initially expected.

So as we approach the second phase of our project (the post-removal restoration) what are some of the lessons that we’ve learned?

1) Trust the opinion of your engineer.  Your association hires an engineer because they want an expert opinion–don’t second guess that expert opinion because it’s inconvenient or unpleasant.

2) Expect the unexpected.  No construction project of any kind goes the way it was planned.  If it’s a deconstruction project, you will always find something underneath the surface that needs to be analyzed or fixed.  If you plan on your project taking 2 weeks, assume it will take 4.  If a month, plan on 2.

3) Expect some homeowners to give the board a difficult time, no matter what the outcome.  In addition to the fact that some homeowners will always feel that remediation projects are unnecessary (often despite voluminous evidence to the contrary) even supportive homeowners will be inconvenienced by the construction.  For example, every balcony being resurfaced has been shut down for an extended period, with no owner access, and owners were required to remove all of their furniture from their balconies, as well.  Management should be sympathetic to these inconveniences and try to ameliorate them whenever possible, but also understand that the responsibility of both management and the board is to do what is proper for the building and the common elements as a whole–not to be bullied by any fraction of unhappy homeowners.  Still, management should make sure that they are always keeping owners well informed of the progress of the project, and that includes notifying out of town residents as well (whether by mail, email or phone calls if necessary).  So be respectful, responsible, but also be confident in the decisions of the board.

In the next installment I’ll update readers about the resurfacing process, as well as detail any difficulties that arose in our attempts to reopen the pool area.

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