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Champlain Towers Condo Board Hires A Crisis PR Firm After The Surfside Collapse

Search and rescue teams work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building Wednesday in Surfside, Fla., where scores of people remain missing after it partially collapsed on Thursday.
Search and rescue teams work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building Wednesday in Surfside, Fla., where scores of people remain missing after it partially collapsed on Thursday.

In the face of lawsuits alleging the condo board's negligence in the catastrophic collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., the condominium association has hired a crisis communications firm.

Levick, a PR firm based in Washington, D.C., that promises to "fix the impossible," confirmed to NPR that it has been retained by the condo group. Levick's director Maxwell Marcucci told NPR that his firm is assisting the board with a deluge of media inquiries.

Marcucci said that the board comprises volunteers who were also residents — one of whom, reports Business Insider, is among the missing.

"They're not experts in the field," Marucci said. "At no time were they warned of a risk of imminent collapse."

In a statement emailed to NPR, Levick spokesperson Maria Stagliano said the firm would not comment on pending litigation.

A massive search and rescue effort is underway at the site of Thursday's collapse, with the 18 people confirmed dead and 145 unaccounted for.

The board contended with the needed repairs for several years

Surviving residents of the condo have already filed three lawsuits against the association, alleging that it should have known about the building's structural risks and should have acted sooner to fix those problems.

Engineers began raising alarm bells over the structural integrity of Champlain Towers South in a 2018 report. But in repeated calls pressuring the condo company to make changes to the property, town officials appeared to have pursued requirements that addressed largely superficial repairs.

Meanwhile, there was infighting among condo board members over the expense of building rehabilitation. In a letter obtained by NPR, and first published by The Wall Street Journal, Jean Wodnicki, the president of the board of directors, informed members in a memo before a meeting in April that the extent of the repair work needed had grown since the 2018 report.

She warned that the rehabilitation costs, including those addressing "accelerating" concrete deterioration and "extensive roof repairs had jumped from about $9 million to $15 million.

"For those who believe we are assessing too much, this shows that we are actually under-assessing a bit according to estimates," Wodnicki wrote. "I acknowledge that we are talking about a huge project and a very large assessment. Your Board of Directors is working very hard to bring this project to fruition."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.