Building certification requirement unique to south Florida

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Downtown Grand Rapids is home to hundreds of buildings, many of them five stories or taller — what the city considers a high-rise.

They are not subject to regular building inspections.

Multiple-occupancy buildings are inspected by the fire department on an annual basis for safety and mechanical hazards, but not specifically for structural flaws. It’s the same with rentals.

“Within our Code Compliance department, they certify rental properties, but they don’t get into the structural aspects of the building,” Grand Rapids Building Official Mark Fleet said.

In fact, since they all follow the same state building code, few if any communities in Michigan require regular inspections or certifications, even 40 years apart, as is required in some southern Florida counties.

As search and rescue teams keep looking for survivors and bodies following the Thursday collapse of a condominium high-rise near Miami, there has been a lot of talk about building inspections. Champlain Towers were about to undergo a mandatory 40-year-old recertification.

That requirement in Miami-Dade and Broward counties is unique and is the result of another building collapse.

In 1974, a 40-plus year old building housing the local Drug Enforcement Agency crumbled, killing seven people and injuring 16. An engineer concluded aggregate rock in concrete used in south Florida construction contained salt. Combined with the region’s salty air and humidity, the salt caused steel reinforcement rods to rust. Thus, Miami-Dade and Broward’s 40-year rectification rule was adopted.

While engineers don’t have to worry about salt water and humidity in Grand Rapids, they do have requirements to make sure a building is safe from other elements before they’re built.

“They drill down. They test the quality of the bedrock, the quality of the soils, and they design their foundation system in accordance of how good their soils are,” Fleet said of city requirements.

The information is submitted and reviewed by city engineers, who also look at load factors.

“The people (or) the occupants, the wind, seismic — there’s a lot of factors that go into all of the loads,” Fleet explained.

If an existing building is affected by a force of nature — like the floodwaters that inundated the lower level of Plaza Towers in 2013 — the city, in cooperation with the building’s owners, will take action. In the case of Plaza Towers, the building was evacuated for nearly a month while the safety was checked.

“It took three different phases to get it to where its current state is, which is very safe,” Fleet said.

There are things to look for if you’re concerned with your building’s integrity: anything from a door or window that doesn’t shut right all the way to an uneven roof. Your first call should be to your landlord or building manager.

“If you get to a place where you feel your voice is not being heard, you have strong concerns, please call our office direct,” Fleet said.

The city Code Compliance office can be reached at 616.456.3053.

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