St. Petersburg, FL
This project won the ICRI Award of Excellence in the High Rise category in 2019. A special thanks to Gary R Wasser at R. L. James, Inc. General Contractor for submitting this project and mentioning us as the product supplier!
Signature Place Condominium is in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, and consists of one large 36 story residential and two 5 and 7 story multi-use (retail and office) condominium buildings with 5 story garage and recreational plaza deck and pool above the garage building. The property encompasses an entire city block and at the time of its construction was the tallest building in St Petersburg. It boasts a unique 5 story water wall on the south face of the amenity deck presenting a popular photo opportunity to passersby as well as wedding parties. The high-rise structure tapers from west to east forming a pointed knife edge with a prominent sail-like roof overhang overlooking the bay, Rowdies soccer stadium, with views of Albert Whitted Airport. Every spring the Firestone Grand Prix takes place on the streets below offering an outstanding opportunity for viewing parties.
Construction began in 2005 at the peak of the real estate boom and neared completion in 2008 just as the market collapsed. Units originally selling in the range of $400,000 - $1.5 million-plus were sold by the developer at auction as sales slowed. Soon after occupancy unit owners began experienc¬ing water intrusion issues on the CMU constructed walls on the south and west elevations of the high rise and at other CMU constructed locations on the east and west liner buildings. Cracks in the stucco began to develop in consistent locations at the floor to wall transitions. These issues along with many others resulted in the association filing a construction defect claim against the developer.
Investigation and Discovery
A repair project was undertaken to address the stucco and water intrusion issues with an initial investigative project that was intended to repair stucco defects in 2 wall elevations – one was a shear wall and the other a broad wall. On the shear wall, horizontal cracking had developed on every floor line where the stucco contractor had installed the control joints improperly. The shear walls are located at the end of a balcony atop a 21” turndown beam. Rather than install the control joints at the bottom of the beam to the top of the wall they were installed in line with the bottom of the balcony slab across the face of the beam. The broad wall area is westerly facing and therefore constantly exposed to the Florida west coast hot sunny conditions and frequent afternoon thunderstorm and high winds. Stucco cracking exhibited throughout the entire 6000 sf plus wall area.
When the work began chipping the stucco from the walls at the joint locations, some of the CMU walls were broken and it was discovered that cells of the CMU were void of grout where they should have been reinforced. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the reinforcing was either missing or not properly connected to the structure. As the high-rise structure is a unique convention¬ally reinforced building with CMU shear walls connected at drop-down beams that are adjacent to the balcony slabs, these repairs were deemed urgent and further investigations were performed.
To determine if this was an isolated occurrence or endemic throughout the building, the architects created an inspection protocol to determine the extent of the defects and to allow opposing counsel the opportunity to observe the defects. As the association was involved in a construction defect claim against the developer careful documentation of the defects was paramount to the success of the associations claim
Developing a Repair Plan
A plan of attack to address the defects needed to be formulated quickly and it was accomplished through an outstanding teamwork approach by the Architects, Contractor, Board of Directors, Own¬ers Representative, Property Management, and Legal Counsel. Adding to the challenge was not only the disappointment of such major issues with their building the owners, but they had to endure negative press about their homes as media learned of this situation and began running news articles in print and on television.
Due to the costly and challenging requirements of accessing a 36 story high rise structure with many changes in direction in busy downtown St Petersburg, the board of directors made the difficult but wise decision to take advantage of economies of scale discounts and address other issues as well. The project scope of work was developed to also replace the thinly applied balcony waterproof membranes and paint the exterior envelope of all the buildings as well as address some roof coating issues.
The additional repairs required a changeover in access equipment on certain elevations from swing stages to mast climbers to increase productivity. Overhead protection scaffold was erected and moved around the building as work progressed in order to provide safe pedestrian entry into the building as well as sidewalk passageways along the busy surrounding streets. Funding for the project needed to be acquired and was done so by a combination of unit owner as¬sessments and bank financing. Unit owner assessments ranged from $9,900 for the smallest units to $132,000 for the three-story penthouse unit.
Repairing the reinforced cells at their existing locations was problematic as removing the existing grout and reinforcing was very time consuming, costly, and risked penetrating the living units on the opposing side of the walls. Therefore, a plan was developed to relocate where possible the reinforcing at cells adjacent to the original locations by cutting open the faces of the top of the cells to bottom, properly installing the reinforcement, applying bar coating materials to improve longevity, and forming and grouting the cells. As this method would add significant weight to the structures the repair engineer consulted with the design engineer to verify the structure could support the additional loading.
Engineering evaluations determined the appropriate spacing between reinforced cells based upon wind loads. Inspections were performed at every cell prior to forming and grouting to verify the hole depths prior to epoxying #5 reinforcing bars, bar overlap exceeding 30” and properly tied, and appli¬cation of bar coatings. Upon removal of the forms if the grout was not filled to the bottom of the tie beam the voids were hand packed.
Exterior Stucco Cladding Repairs
In order to make the stucco control joint and CMU repairs approximately 40% of the existing stucco was going to be removed. Additionally, as it was discovered that most of the CMU was misaligned with the floor slabs resulting in noncompliant building code stucco applications in excess of 2” and de-bonded in many locations. In order to avoid a patched appearance and address tit was determined that all the stucco cladding would be removed on the shear and broad wall elevations. Repairs on these wall locations included stripping all of the stucco from the walls, replacing missing/loose mortar, sealing the soft joints with sealant, installing control joints at the proper location, waterproofing the CMU, applying new stucco, coating the walls with a waterproof coating to meet ASTM D6904 - 03 Standard Practice for Resistance to Wind-Driven Rain for Exterior Coatings Applied on Masonry standards. To resolve issues with the misaligned CMU a vertical repair mortar was installed to build up the wall elevations prior to stucco application.
In total, over 2000 cells were reinforced and 60,000 plus square feet of stucco cladding was removed, walls were floated with repair mortar, and stucco was reinstalled during the course of the two-plus year project. Balcony waterproof membranes were replaced, and the exterior walls were waterproofed. The water intrusion issues have been resolved and the building is structurally sound. The owners can now rest assured their homes are safe and able to withstand the high winds attributed to tropical storms. The association was successful in reaching the best as can be expected settlement due to the diligent investigation, documentation, and team-work of all involved. With the repair work completed and mast climbers and swing stages removed from the property, the negative press and sour feelings amongst the owners were long forgotten. Owners took pride in the fresh appearance of their homes and the market regained confidence as downtown St. Petersburg thrived. Property values have steadily increased and unit sales have turned over quickly. Signature Place continues to be a thriving community drawing marked interest from passersby due to its unique appearance, water wall and prominent knife-edge over-looking the Bay.