Waukesha condo building still unfit for human occupancy, residents can return briefly Saturday to gather items

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WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Dozens of people are still unable to return home to the Horizon West condo building, located at 315 N. West Ave., because it is still unfit to occupy. The city could not yet answer many questions about the short-term or long-term future.

The president of the construction company that was working on the building said residents will be able to return Saturday morning for 10 minutes to gather more personal items. He also said it has not yet been determined if the building will be taken down.

Friday afternoon it was revealed had a storm not exposed some of the damage, the structural issues may not have been discovered until it was too late.

Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard said, "The goal of the temporary bracing is to take away the immediate threat of collapse. And hopefully make it so we can develop a plan -they can develop a plan- to go in and get some of their possessions."

After a litany of safety issues that started last summer, the condo association started removing balconies in October. But that exposed pooling water and rusted and weakened structural columns.

Further inspections in November determined the entire building was unsafe, so emergency evacuations were ordered Thursday, Dec. 2.

We asked the city administrator how such severe problems could be left unchecked. Kevin Lahner said, "The buildings that are built are inspected on a regular basis."

But it seems he was referring to fire inspections, which are required annually.

The city's online tracking system shows some sort of inspections were performed at the property semi-annually every year until they abruptly stopped in 2016, but Lahner was unable to elaborate.

No one from the building inspection division was at the news conference about building inspections.

Later in the briefing Chief Howard said, "There is no requirement for structural inspections that I'm aware of unless there's a deficiency that's identified." He added there's no requirement at the local or state levels, or at any other level of government.

Now, 65 people do not know if they'll ever be able to return to their homes. Chief Howard said, "That is going to be the responsibility of the condo association to work with their engineer to develop a plan that shows they can safely go in and do that. We'll review that and then allow access if it's possible."

The homes on either side of the condo building are now safe to return to, and Chief Howard says there are no other buildings in the area as a result of this situation.

Neither the Waukesha Building Inspection Division nor the mayor's office have responded to requests for information.

Residents told CBS 58 they were given about 15 minutes to grab whatever they could and evacuate Thursday night, Dec. 2. The Salvation Army is helping the families. 

They were given the option to stay at a nearby hotel for two nights. 

Below is a brief history of the city of Waukesha's interactions with the Horizon West Condominium Association: 

  • In June of 2020 the City of Waukesha received a complaint about the conditions of the balconies at the Horizon West Condominiums and ordered the balconies to not be used by residents. Additionally, the city ordered the structural issues with the balconies be remedied, as well as ordered the owner to conduct an engineering analysis and provide it to the City.
  • There were additional inspections throughout 2020 and 2021 by the City of Waukesha Fire Department as the condominium association attempted to hire contractors and rectify the issues at the building.
  • On September 21, 2021 the City ordered fencing installed around the building due to the worsening condition of the balconies and falling debris was dropping from the structures.
  • In October 2021, the Horizon West Condominium Association began removing the balconies.
  • Removal of the balconies revealed deficiencies of the structural frame of the building as well as the structural columns. Additional inspections occurred by the Fire Department and the City’s third party independent structural engineer, and the engineer for the building throughout November.
  • On Tuesday, November 30, a preliminary structural report by an independent structural engineer revealed deficiencies in the load bearing structure of the building. The City began discussions on appropriate next steps.
  • Upon additional site visits and analysis by the City, building engineer and independent structural engineer, the City received additional data late afternoon on Thursday December 2 which led to the conclusion that the building was unsafe to remain occupied. The City activated its Emergency Operation Center and oversaw the evacuation throughout the evening of December 2.
  • As of Friday morning, December 3, residents have been successfully evacuated and the building is now secured.
    • 65 total individuals were successfully evacuated from the building.
    • 23 rooms were provided by the Salvation Army for temporary housing
    • This morning, the city in conjunction with all parties have reviewed a proposed plan to provide immediate temporary shoring and support to stabilize the structure in order to mitigate any imminent structural collapse.
  • As of 12 noon today condo owner contractors have installed structural shoring on the building to provide some immediate structural integrity
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