The towers and the ticking clock

By Matthew Shaer | The New York Times

On a bright afternoon in June, James McGuinness arrived in the lobby of Champlain Towers South, one of the tallest condo towers in Surfside, just north of Miami Beach. Like its sister building, Champlain Towers North, the South tower was built in 1981, in the midcentury modern style so beloved by Florida developers of the era: squat and unlovely, with an L-shaped Duplo block footprint and heavy concrete balconies that jutted from the 13-story structure. Out back, there was a garden, and beyond the garden, the sea.

Although McGuinness had been the chief building official in Surfside for less than four months, he knew Champlain Towers South well. And not only because he lived in an apartment complex nearby: Between late May and late June, he made four previous trips to Champlain South, where the condominium board was upgrading the building’s “swing-stage supports” — the roof-mounted anchors used by professional window- washing crews. This trip, on June 23, would be his fifth and last.

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