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Palmar Condos Structural Integrity


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#1 Rocketfish

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 10:52 AM

Maybe, just maybe after fifteen years of extended stays on the island, it's time...


We've recently looked at the Palmar condos, and they have some nice features to them, attractive enough to put them on the list.

But we also know that the building sat as an empty, exposed shell for over 20 years.

Do any of this forum's readers know of any engineering reports, rumours, etc. regarding the building's structural integrity after being open to the elements for so long?
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#2 Coz2wonder

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 12:06 PM

My husband sells real estate here on the island, and I asked him your question.

He said that all the steel was cleaned, and reinforced.

We where just over there this week visiting friends, and I was surprised at how few units where left.

They also redid the pool, and deck area...man, it is one of the best designed areas I have seen.

What is important when buying a condo, is what are the HOA fees. The fees for this property are VERY low, and reasonable.
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#3 Carey

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 03:42 PM

This doesn't particularly apply to Palmar. But when considering a condo here you want to check to be sure you will be able to get a clear title in the event of a purchase. I know that seems like a Duh sort of thing to mention. But there have been some problems here with that. If I were going to buy a condo here I would make sure I talked to other owners in the same complex and ask them point blank about this issue.
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#4 Rocketfish

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Posted 21 February 2010 - 11:50 AM

Coz2wonder:

Appreciate your reply.

The consensus I've been getting from construction types is that it's virtually impossible to clean and reinforce rebar that's embedded in cement with portions exposed to the elements. The corrosion that develops in those sections can create unseen problems.

Although the shell endured Wilma, it was wide open. The real test will be when the building has to withstand the forces of a major hurricane event as a closed structure.

Guess it's a crapshoot - you pay your money and you take your chances.
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#5 mslf500

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 01:24 PM

I assume this is the building North of Park Royal?

If it is, I looked at this building as a potential purchase when it was up for sale as shell structure a few years back. We didn't get the deal, but my budget included taking down 1-2 of the top floors and starting over. There was lots of corroded steel and we weren't convinced that the top floors where they just stopped work on day were sutiable to support themselves. I looked for my photos of this, but couldn't find them.

There are ways to fix this situation, but our decision was to remove and replace. I don't know if that occurred.

Concrete provides clues as to failure and problems long before it fails. There should be engineering drawings available to tell you what was re-worked

You should also look at how the facility is protected for hurricanes. Exposed glass and large panes of glass are subject to impact and wind pressure damage.

You should also check to see what the hurricane insurance covers. Many times it is just the exterior building envelope. The pool areas are sometimes not included.
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#6 Carey

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 01:37 PM

I assume this is the building North of Park Royal?

Concrete provides clues as to failure and problems long before it fails.


Care to share some of those clues, Mark? Since virtually everything on this island is built of concrete.
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#7 mslf500

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 07:02 AM

Carey,

It is generally difficult to make generalizations regarding concrete's structural strength w/o seeing it in place. The reason for this is concrete shrinks as it cures. So you first have to discount shrinkage and thermal movement. These, however are good places for corrosion to start, but they might not affect the performance of the concrete in a bearing capacity situation from a design standpoint as long as corrosion is addressed.

The rebar used in most of Cozumel is plain rebar and it is not coated to prevent corrosion.

Probably the highest load stress a building will see are hurricane winds or an earthquake.

Another factor is time. Concrete is good in compression. Steel (rebar) is good in tension. Together they work to make something stronger. Reinforced concrete can/will sag, so the steel gets more tension on it. This is called "creep" and occurs over time. In the US, floors are rarely loaded to their full design capacity.


A few things I would look for (Again, I state this is a gross generalization as every condition is different.) are:

-At the column areas, look for hairline cracks radiating out from the corners on the floor above. Look for similar cracks in similarly supported columns. When something is under-designed at a column, it usually cracks pretty fast if it is overstressed. This type of connection can be fixed, but it will be expensive.

-Where balconies are cantilevered, look for cracks at the top of the balcony's edge where the wall and balcony meet. The weakest area is usually right at the edge of the balcony.

-At large window openings, look for 30-45 degree cracks radiating upward at the top left and right corners on the inside and outside. You may also find a corresponding sag crack near the middle of the window's head. This is a sign of an overloaded beam condition.

-If you find long, "traveling" cracks in the walls, underside of floors, floor tiles or the doors/windows are misaligned, these are also areas that warrant a closer look. This could also be a thermal or contraction joint.

-Anywhere you see concrete cracking/spalling off and you see rust behind it means the rebar is in a corrosion mode. The only way to fix it is to remove the concrete, clean the corrosion and repair the work. Widespread corrosion of this nature could mean they used "salty" water or sand to mix the concrete.

-Buildings that were built with a bucket and cement mixer will have greater variations in strength than truck mixed concrete. This assumes that the truck mixed (ready mix) uses scientific methods for measuring the mix of the concrete.


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#8 Charles

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 10:18 PM

"Buildings that were built with a bucket and cement mixer will have greater variations in strength than truck mixed concrete. This assumes that the truck mixed (ready mix) uses scientific methods for measuring the mix of the concrete".

In your comment of bucket and cement mixer apply to the long standard method of having a pile of dry mix, forming a bowl in the center to hold water and then it is mixed by hand shovels and then transported by bucket? I saw some big projects being built that used several groups of men and had multiple mixing stations going at once. I can't remember the first time a saw one of those cement mixing machines, maybe when the first San Fransisco de Asis on avenue 30 was built. It was some years later that I saw the first cement truck on the island.

The problem with older structures besides technique and other materials, it seemed like beach sand was the standard. As if the rebar couldn't rust fast enough on its own, let's add some salt to the mix. We had one place that weeds were growing out of the bare cement roof. Sections with the weeds you could pull the weeds by hand and bring up sections of the roof that had all the strength and consistency of medium packed earth from a garden. It offered a whole new concept for a roof top garden.

I believe the original construction stopped when the developer ran out of money a couple of years before Gilberto so it was only an open shell for about twenty years. At least the construction had not progressed to the point of putting in wiring and plumbing(I hope). The standard method of construction used for decades was to construct the walls and then chisel out space for the wiring and pipes. It was a major improvement when they started using techniques of putting in plumbing and electrical line as the construction progressed. It couldn't have helped the structural longevity (besides the beach sand) of having all these chiseled and patches in the walls.
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#9 Carey

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 09:25 AM

Our compound, what I refer to sometimes as our Vast Monument to Concrete, was built entirely using the cement mixing methods you describe, Charles. All by hand, bag after bag (after bag after BAG) of it. Sand and grava fina seperated shovel load by shovel load as it was sifted through a large, hand-made fine mesh screen. Then mix it up with the right amount of water and that bag of cemento and you're ready to go. If there was a roof pouring, which had to be done all in one fell swope on a Saturday so it could cure over Sunday, they bring on extra men so the heavy buckets are heading up there fast on a human conveyer belt.

I also never saw a bag of redi mix cement nor any kind of cement mixer -- let alone a truck! -- until around 2005. Actually the little cement mixers were quite a novelty still until 2005 and I don't remember seeing the trucks until later than that. I watched an apartment roof near us being finished several years ago and they, shockingly, not only had a cement truck, but a big funnel to push it up to the roof and spread it.

I don't believe the job got done any faster. Just used a whole lot less men. And I'm wondering if hiring that truck wasn't a lot more expensive than using ayudantes and a couple of mason supervisors for the afternoon instead.

Slight digression here but still on the subject of local construction so hope I may be forgiven ....

Last week my neighbor across the street on Avenida 15 in Centro finished off a new roof on their place which, she told me, is more than 40 years old. One of those typical, one story cement block structures that are pretty much all we have here. But the interesting thing -- to me, anyway -- was when they removed the cement from the roof, the only reinforcement was a criss-cross of old, rusting rebar. Much of it looking a little bent from the weight. In other words, no bogadillas -- preformed, sort of rounded-T shaped solid cement roof joists. That's what they've been using for quite some time here. But, apparently not 40 years ago. So watch out for renting or purchasing ooooollllld places.
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#10 Coz2wonder

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 12:21 PM

As per this discussion, I thought it best to ask for FACTS in regards to Palmar Condo's from the owners.

I contacted Pedro Joaquin who owns the complex.

What follows is the email I received from Senior Joaquin;

"Let me address some of the concerns that have been posted on CMC.

The building had an engineering reports before we (Joaquin's) bought the property. We hired the most qualified structural engineer in the Yucatan peninsula, Ing. Mario Duarte from Merida to evaluate building prior to purchase.

For several months, a deep study on the structure of the building allowed us to understand the needs of this building, as well as the responsibilities bond to Senior Duarte in his assessment of what was needed to be done prior to purchase.

That recommendation on that project was follow on every letter.

Just as someone mentions on the chat, we had to tear down a few areas, build a lot more (specially the south area and top floors, which are completely new) and reinforce others (cutting the top of the columns and incorporating new steel on them).

Let me tell you also that during that time we bought two properties on the island. One is Palmar, and the other one is st. Pilar's beach (Next to Cozumel's Caribe). Both properties had old structures (even thou I don't consider calling old a building of 20 years, old). Mr. Duarte inspected both buildings: recommended St. Pilar to be torn down (which we did), and gave us a project to be follow for Palmar building. And of course, Mr Duarte's diagnose of the building was given to us before buying the property. So we are pretty damn sure that what we bought can hold on for many decades.

A few history of other buildings on the island: Cozumel caribe, around 60 years; Playa azul Hotel, 50 years; El Cozumelenio Hotel, 40 years; La Ceiba Hotel, more than 30 years; and Melia Hotel 30 years. All these hotels where made with less quality of water and concrete, used on those days, and they had hold up pretty good to many many hurricanes. So believe me no hurricane is going to tear down our building. Pure crab!!

Thank you again..

Pedro Joaquin"
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#11 divadiver

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 01:44 PM

Mark,

It's such a pleasure to read your response and know exactly what you are talking about. Reading the word spalling made me think of the times I used it in my inspection reports. For such terms, I included a glossary with my reports.

Just the other day, I had the pleasure of experiencing a construction failure at my house, a case of spalling. I was just about to pull the car out of the garage and I heard a crash. Various sized pieces of one of the beams for the carport had fallen and of course, revealed corroded rebar. I'd seen some fissures in this beam, but had noticed recently that they'd lengthened and that spalling was imminent.

I'm fortunate that the concrete didn't fall on the car. I could envision a broken windows or windshield and slashes in the hood or door.

The previous owners had added a carport and garage to the house. The construction of which is horrid. They workers took the easy way to build the roof. It appears, they just put the bags of cement on the the forms, cut the bags and did the mix on the roof. There are pieces of bags hanging from the ceiling and still a piece of plywood stuck up there.

That afternoon, I got a maestro de obras to come take a look. As I knew, the carport will need to be demolished and reconstructed. I had him knock of the remaining loose bits along the beam, so hopefully there won't be anything more fault, until demolition.
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#12 divadiver

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 01:44 PM

Paula,

Thanks for posting Mr. Joaquin's response.
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#13 Coz2wonder

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 02:26 PM

it is really about management and maintenance of structures.

In the type of environment we live in, if you are doing neither...stuff happens.

I might add this was a discussion in regards to Palmar Condo''s with a stated concern.

The question was asked, the documents are available for inspection, and you now have the answer to the concern that was raised.

Interesting dissertation on the attributes of concrete, but the building practices and standards here may not apply.

Frankly, my concrete house has stood up to two cat 5 hurricanes, and it was built using Mexican knowledge, and skill.
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#14 mslf500

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 03:41 PM

I thought the developer's response was adequate. It still doesn't hurt to do your due diligence and look around. If you have concerns, hire a local architect to provide a pre-purchase inspection. It will be money well spent. I do this sort of inspections for commercial buildings all the time. You'd hire a home inspector in the States, why not Cozumel? If you need a local architect/engineer, I'm sure this forum can provide you a few names.

Regarding concrete mixes. I was trying to give an abbreviated version, but since two good examples were mentioned, I'll elaborate.

Concrete is composed of some very simple components: Portland cement, sand, gravel and water. To obtain a certain strength, it has to be mixed in very specific proportions.

When mixed in a cement mixer, there is the "shovel" method or the "bucket" method for measuring. i.e X shovels of cement, Y shovels of sand, Z shovels of gravel and so many gallons of water. Miss one by a few percentages and you get concrete that is really strong or weaker than you want. Did I mention the guy has to pay attention to the counts of each and the temperature during pouring and curing is critical? Portland cement is expensive, so you can guess which one might get shorted.

Ready-mix is what I call mixed in a cement truck. Technically, it should be more precise. Technically, that is....I've had many buildings where a concrete pour didn't come up to the strength we wanted for numerous reasons. Fortunately, structural engineers design with a safety factor (usually a minimum of 2) so if your 3,000 psi concrete comes in at 2500 psi, you might be OK.

If there is correct proportioning, there really shouldn't be much difference in strength from one or the other. I have been pleased to see cement trucks on the island and even more shocked to see concrete pumpers on the island. Even pumped concrete has rules for how far it can be "dropped" so it doesn't settle out. (another seminar?)

There is also empirical (rule of thumb) design vs. (rational) engineered design. You will find that some of the older empirical designs are over-designed. (Cozumel Caribe is a possible example.) Engineered designs rely on better construction techniques and materials. What might be a 16" wall via the empirical method is only 8" using engineered calculations.

The house I live in is a perfect example of empirical vs engineered. It was built (empirically) in 1897 and has three floors with 11'-13' ceilings. By the time you get to the roof, it is almost 45' tall. There's only one problem....the bearing brick walls are only 9-10" thick. Ask any engineer if he could design a wall like that today, he'd tell you no. Not only that, the code prohibits walls this narrow for a building that tall. Funny thing though, it has withstood hurricanes and massive snow storms without a single crack anywhere. Go figure.

BTW, the Chedraui building was built using the bucket method. It has held up nicely. I watched them build it from the hallways of PLG for a couple of visits.
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