It’s been a few days since the tragic collapse of an entire section of The Champlain Tower, a residential condominium near Miami, Florida. Workers and rescuers are still sifting through the rubble and trying desperately to reach any survivors who may still be trapped. Officials and engineers are still trying to isolate the direct cause of the failure and find out exactly what caused the deadly incident.
Ashley Dean awaits along with many other families to hear the ultimate fate of her little sister Cassie Stratton. In a recent interview with Sky News, Dean revealed the exact nature of the last conversation Stratton had with her husband Michael Stratton immediately before the building collapsed and the call was cut off. The haunting words of Ashley Dean convey the deep sadness and frustration the families who await the news of the fate of their loved ones feel.
‘The Pool Is Caving In’ victim told Husband
Dean says at precisely 1:30 a.m. Thursday morning, her sister Cassie was speaking with her husband Michael Stratton on her balcony. Dean said, “She was on the phone with her husband and it was a little after 1 in the morning and she says ‘Honey, the pool (deck) is caving in. The pool (decks) sinking in.’ and he said ‘What are you talking about?’; ‘The pool (deck)… it’s sinking in the ground. The ground is shaking, everything is shaking. Then she screamed a death curdling scream and the phone hung up and we’ve never been able to find her ever again.”
As of June 27th, we’ve updated this report to reflect that it was at first incorrectly reported that Cassondra Stratton saw the swimming pool cave in; it was the pool deck she actually saw caving in, not the actual swimming pool itself.
Her haunting story is merely one of many as over 159 people still remain unaccounted for in Thursdays tragedy. FEMA will be providing additional aid to the disaster site. Governor Rick DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Miami-Dade county on Thursday, which allowed President Biden to approve emergency FEMA aid.
The official death toll now stands at 4 people, with 120 people accounted for. An investigation is ongoing and rescuers are still frantically working to reach any survivors who may still be trapped underneath debris.
Experts are worried about the structural integrity of surrounding buildings in the local area. A 2018 report found numerous structural problems in The Champlain Towers building which required immediate repairs. The condo has been applying for recertification while it was attempting to address issues of a water leak from the pool area into the garage.
“There was standing water all over the parking garage,” a contractor, who asked not to be named, told the Miami Herald. The pool contractor mentioned cracking concrete and severely corroded rebar under the pool. (Updated June 28th, 2021)
Were Pool Leaks A Sign of Major Structural Damage?
Solving the leak however reportedly involved major work and would have cost millions of dollars. The recertification The Champlain Towers was undergoing was part of a standard process for similar buildings of it’s age. A law was put into place in 1974 after a similar collapse occurred at the DEA Building which killed 7 people.
An engineer named Frank Morabito of Surfside, FL conducted a survey on the building in 2018 and told the New York Times that the waterproofing below the pool deck and entrance drive was failing, “causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.” His report indicated that “failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.”
“My sister told me about all sorts of water leaks and people on her roof with heavy equipment,” said Dean, whose hope that her sister might remain alive is quickly fading with each day that passes. “I have to be realistic; my baby is gone, my baby sister is gone.” said Dean who expressed frustration and anger in addition to her grief.
“I want to know how this could happen and who is responsible? She was living in a dream place but it was a death trap.” said Dean.
Her words echo the sentiment of many other families who want to know how such a thing could have occured and what will be done to prevent future tragedies such as the one which occured at The Champlain Towers.
Barry Cohen, a resident of the building, escaped with his wife and described cracks around the pool deck prior to the collapse. He wonders whether neighboring construction may have caused vibrations that might have weakened Champlain Towers.
Recovery operations are expected to take weeks and the complete story of what caused the collapse and who may be responsible is still unfolding.
Featured Photo Credit: ABC News
Olympics in Tokyo a Complete Bust
The Summer Olympics was postponed until this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For marketing and branding purposes, they are still calling it Tokyo 2020 which is weird, but okay marketing is expensive and to be honest, most of us are just fine with pretending last year never even happened.
This does nothing to address the elephant in the room which is, no one is allowed to attend these Olympic venues and a huge percentage of viewers forgot they were even happening this year. By no means should this diminish the incredible effort the United States swim team is putting on. Already they have won 8 medals and are expected to dominate most of this years 18 different swim events on the program.
There is a stunning new aquatics arena in Tokyo Bay that was built specifically for the Olympics. It’s a brand new facility, that in the normal course of events should have been packed to the rafters with 15,000 fans during a typical Olympic year. Unfortunately, there is nothing normal about this Olympics and spectators are not allowed. The facility which was part of the tremendous $15.4 billion dollar investment Tokyo made in order to win the bid for hosting the Olympics, sits nearly empty for all of this summers Olympic events. In actuality, the final figure for this entire folly will probably be closer to $20 billion making this the most expensive Olympics ever.
A muted opening ceremony was televised to a dramatically reduced audience. With the stadium nearly empty, the momentus energy of the crowd was visibly missing. Most athletes wore face coverings and waved enthusiastically to tens of thousands of empty seats which further cemented the surreal oddity of all. Some athletes practiced social distancing, choosing to march alone, while others grouped together much to the dismay of event organizers. Despite the fact that its delegation has undergone several positive COVID tests since arriving, the Czech Republic joined the other countries in the opening ceremonies.
The opening event for the Olympics drew nearly 17 million viewers in the U.S. which may sound like a lot, but in actuality hit a 33 year low and was down nearly 36% since 2016’s Olympics. The reality is this Olympics has been a complete bust for Japan and the city of Tokyo in particular. The $500,000,000 dollar aquatics center is depressingly empty, and symbolic of the complete disinterest that has many diseffectionately refering to this Olympics as the Pandemic Games. To add insult to injury, the gleaming new insanely expensive facility probably didn’t even need to be built in the first place.
Experts who know the city of Tokyo well say that all of the swim events could have been hosted at the 45,000 seat Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants. Near by Yokohama stadium also seats 17,000 and could have easily hosted the events. The expenditure has been criticized as a needless waste of money. It is difficult to imagine a future for the facility, in fact it is scheduled to be downsized to accommodate 5,000 shortly after the Olympics are over.
The impression of being in a sterile, locked-down quarantine permeates this Olympics according to athletes and participants. There is no amount of simulated cheering and fake cardboard cutout fans that can assuade that feeling. Fans, who would ordinarily be screaming support for their countries and socializing with folks from all over the world in a carnival like atmosphere, have been barred, leaving just a highly vetted group of media, authorities, athletes, and staff.
There is an inescapable feeling of pity for the Japanese people, who will pay a colossal financial price for their government’s overzealous spending and a global pandemic which they had no way to predict would happen.
Feature Photo Credit: ABS / CBN
Too Big To Fail – Olympus Pools Implodes
We first began writing about Olympus Pools back in April of this year after investigative reports broke news that the Land O’ Lakes pool builder was in deep trouble. Allegations of unfinished pools, unpaid subcontractors and distributors and a long list of angry customers put Olympus in the spotlight and for all the wrong reasons.
In the past few months we have had numerous interactions with owner James Staten, James Judge (a PR representative Staten hired to represent Olympus a few months ago), and Jordan Hidalgo, a well known pool builder who had supposedly partnered with Olympus Pools to salvage the ongoing projects they had, as well as the firms battered reputation.
In late May, Olympus Pools had released a press release stating that Jordan Hidalgo, a well respected figure in the pool and spa industry would be taking on co-ownership of Olympus Pools.
However, this week after rumors began circulating about impending foreclosures on homeowners as well as another major blow due to unpaid workers compensation insurance causing a work shut down, Hidalgo released this statement to the media.
“During our due diligence period, it became apparent that the company was not in the same position as it appeared originally,” Hidalgo said a statement on Tuesday. “As a result, I have decided to cut my losses and am walking away from the opportunity. I am hoping the best for Olympus Pools and their customers.”
We reached out to Staten’s PR representative James Judge to get a comment to which he replied “We actually no longer represent Olympus Pools”. His leaving directly coincided with Hidalgo’s announcement.
James Staten responded to Hidalgo’s departure to investigative journalist Shannon Behnken in an email contradicting Hidalgo’s version of the story. Staten stated that Hidalgo was “never able to ‘buy’ even a portion of Olympus,” and said that, “there has been no ‘due diligence period’ and Mr. Hidalgo has failed to perform even his most basic obligations.”
We touched base with Hidalgo this week to get his side of the story to which he replied, “That is an absolute lie. I tried to be classy about this entire thing but I can see he (Staten) is not going to let that happen. There is more information coming out in the media, just wait.” To which Hidalgo eluded that this week there would be a major announcement coming.
Olympus Pools is Out of Business
This morning Olympus Pools officially announced that they will be shutting down operations after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asked them to surrender their license. This effectively means that Olympus Pools will be unable to continue working on any current projects they have contracted for.
“Over the last several months at Olympus Pools, we have endured constant negative media coverage encouraging viewers to file complaints with Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation. As a result, the DBPR has forced us to voluntarily relinquish our license. This means we are no longer allowed to continue working for any of our customers. We have fought hard and would have continued to do so for as long it took to complete every project.”
“Although we are greatly disappointed in the decision, we understand the pressure that has been placed on the Department to act. We do not feel the decision is beneficial to our community or our customers, however, it was not our decision to make. If it were up to us, we would continue working for our customers.”
“We have enjoyed servicing the Tampa Bay area for close to 10 years. We are proud of the thousands of projects we have built and the work we have done for our community in that time. We are grateful for all of the support the vast majority of our former customers, employees, friends, family, and neighbors have shown us during this time.”
Sources close to the organization disclosed to Pool Magazine that Olympus Pools currently has hundreds of ongoing pool construction projects and anywhere from 50-100 open holes in the ground.
It is expected that a variety of agencies will now descend to perform a collection of assets however, the south showroom for Olympus Pools has been completely emptied out according to a source close to Pool Magazine. How this bodes for the unlucky homeowners who entrusted Olympus Pools with their swimming pool projects remains to be seen, however already many have begun to receive lien and foreclosure notices on their homes.
Featured Photo Credits: WFLA
Sky Pool – One on One with the Manufacturers
An in depth look at the engineering marvel that is the Sky Pool
The iconic Sky Pool in London has finally arrived and the overnight sensation that this pool has become is nothing short of remarkable. One of the most highly anticipated new pool projects, this incredible and instantly iconic pool has been written about incessantly since it was first devised.
This unique see-through acrylic wall pool sits suspended between two towers of the Embassy Gardens in London, England. Recently we had the opportunity to chat with Paul Gardner Vice President of Engineering for Reynolds Polymer, the manufacturers behind this creative and captivating new swimming pool vessel.
In preparation for our meeting, we hopped on one of our favorite social media groups Ask The Masters and found out what questions the pool industry had about the Sky Pool. There were a lot of interesting questions, which was indicative of how fascinated pool builders are about this project.
Sky Pool Has Worldwide Notoriety
We asked Gardner what it was like working on such a high visibility project. “We’re engineers and weren’t thinking about the marketing benefits that early on. Now it’s fun to be on it and we see how exciting it is from that standpoint.” said Gardner.
Given that Reynolds Polymer is a manufacturer of acrylic panels, there are very few companies around the world that could take on a project of the size and magnitude of the Sky Pool. Still, we wanted to know how Reynolds got the nod for this particular project.
A Short List of Manufacturers
“Y’know when you do something crazy with acrylic, there is only a few of us that can do that and really only a few that are willing to do it from an engineering standpoint to come up with a good solution, so the field was pretty narrow to begin with.” said Gardner.
“The client came to us pretty quickly.” said Gardner, “We worked on it a long time just to make sure something like this was even feasible.” Reynolds Polymer would go on to secure the design contract as well as the engineering contract shortly after that.
Engineering Hurdles To Overcome
Ultimately, there are probably only a handful of companies around the world that can take on a project of this scope. “When it comes to being monolithically cast, we’re the only ones that do it like that. All of our competitors will laminate. So, they’ll take thinner sheets and glue them together. But in this case getting a monolithically cast part, enabling us to use some of our other methodologies such as signature bonds, that’s the only way you could have done it.” said Gardner.
This particular project had many engineering challenges Reynolds Polymer had to overcome. One of them was accounting for movement from the actual structure of the building. We asked Gardner what his team did from an engineering standpoint to account for settling and movement between the two buildings.
Sky Pool: Engineering of the Vessel
“The swimming pool itself is set up as really an isolated box. On both ends, the acrylic is sitting in a steel tub and that steel tub is then sitting on concrete columns and supported by bearings. The steel tub and the acrylic vessel are cinched together with 2 tension rods underneath which are the only visible structural elements that you can see other than the acrylic. That creates essentially an open top box that can float depending on the movement of the buildings.” said Gardner.
“It can also be adjusted for settling. If there was enough settling, you could get in there and adjust the height of the bearings with either some shims or whatever was necessary to get it back to level.” continued Gardner.
Determining the Thickness of the Acrylic
Determining the proper thickness for the vessel encompassed doing finite element analysis, a widely used method for numerically solving differential equations arising in engineering and mathematical modeling. “We had lots of different load cases that we were looking at,” said Gardner, “By running through that and looking at like 15 or 20 load cases, we settled on a thickness. The thickness is really driven by long term stress. How much stress the acrylic can see to enable it to last for decades.”
The acrylic itself is resting on two steel tubs on either end that is supported by cementitious grout between the acrylic and the steel shelves the entire U channel structure is sitting on.
“You don’t build this and test it and expect it to fail.” said Gardner. All of Reynolds engineering and structural analysis was confirmed by an independent third party who determined the engineering specifications were precise. The polymer system of the Sky Pool is expected to last for at least 50 years.
Some of the questions we got from the pool industry pertained to actual seismic activity that may cause the structure to shift. We also wanted to know about the usability of the Sky Pool under real world conditions.
“Fortunately, London is not a very seismically active area. If there is such a thing, the pool is set on a system of bearings. It’s fixed on one side, and it’s allowed to move on the other. If there was any differential movement whether that’s seismic or heavy winds, there is ability of that structure to move independent of the pool.” said Gardner.
In playing devil’s advocate, we asked Gardner what the design entailed to keep water from the pool from splashing down below and keep the pool from freezing.
“The walls are about 8 feet high. They would have to splash it over the edge, and there is no reason they couldn’t. You have to have the safety walls up there so that people aren’t doing anything too crazy and hanging over the edge once you’re that high up. Otherwise, people could splash and get things over the edge if they get too wild.” said Gardner.
The pool itself is heated year round so the potential for the vessel freezing is nil. “The water is heated year-round so that water is never going to get an opportunity to freeze to a solid block. Plus, it doesn’t get that cold in London consistently enough to where you could have that happen.” said Gardner in responding to whether a pool freeze could cause damage.
Concealing The Plumbing
The filtration system for the Sky Pool has the pump room on one end of the two towers of Embassy Gardens so the water circulates from one side to the other. With no visible plumbing in the photos we have seen have the Sky Pool, we asked Gardner exactly how they managed to conceal all the plumbing. “You’ll notice a pedestrian bridge just north of the pool itself and there is some pipe work that runs through that pedestrian bridge that takes the water back over to the other side.”
Maintaining The Sky Pool
Another big question that was on our minds as well as many other folks in the pool industry was, how do you clean and maintain a pool that high up? “Obviously the wet side is easy to get to in to clean.” said Gardner, “The dry side… we’re pushing the limits of what you can reach with a man lift on the ground. That’s the process right now. They’ve got a man lift that can go up 10 stories and somebody is cleaning it on the dry side on a regular basis.”
Transporting this massive 175,000-pound acrylic structure to the Embassy Gardens in London was no easy task. “The interesting thing is when we were finally finished with it and ready to get it out of here, in Colorado we were having a bunch of wildfires. Even with the best planning and routing, we had to re-route it because the fires had shut down the highways on the route we wanted to go.” said Gardner.
“We got stuck on the Texas border because Hurricane Laura was coming through Houston which was the port we were going out of. We sat on the Texas border for a day or two waiting for Laura to clear out to where the ports would open back up.” said Gardner.
We followed the progress on Reynolds Polymers social media pretty much the entire way and like many other folks in the pool industry, wondered what the permitting process and logistics process was like. As it turns out transporting the vessel was a massive undertaking that took years of planning and coordination. “Permitting takes you multiple months because we had to get all the escorts lined up. It’s not the first large project for us though. For a small town of Grand Junction, Colorado we move a lot of material out of here.” said Gardner.
It certainly isn’t the first large scale acrylic pool project Reynolds has been involved with. Other incredible projects they have undertaken over the years include world class pools and structures all over the globe.
Reynolds Polymer has made a name for themselves in the pool industry for manufacturing, designing, and engineering over the top see through acrylic pool vessels and aquariums. Their work is rapidly gaining traction with luxury homeowners as well who want their own version of the elaborate Sky Pool in their own backyard.
Due to the incredible amount of attention the Sky Pool has already received, we can imagine there will be high demand for this particular concept. “There has already been inquiries coming in for little Sky Pools” said Gardner. “I think because of the publicity of the Sky Pool, there will definitely be others that want something similar. It’s very attractive to have something that catches the eye and floating water is something that people can’t seem to get enough of.”
Listen to our entire interview with the manufacturers of the Sky Pool on the Pool Magazine Podcast
Watch a video of behind-the-scenes footage of the Sky Pool making its way from Reynolds Polymer’s factory in Colorado all the way to London in the UK.
Article Photos Courtesy of Reynolds Polymer
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