Q: Since last month, there’s been a bunch of work taking place at the Austonian. I see what looks like scaffolding and some other equipment up there. What’s going on?
A: It might look like window washing, but it turns out what’s taking place at the Austonian is of a slightly more critical nature — it’s part of a project to correct a defect on some of the tower’s balconies that dates back to the building’s construction nearly a decade ago.
According to a recent disclosure letter issued by the building’s homeowner association, the Austonian Condominium Association, Inc. (ACA), the first indication that something wasn’t quite right showed up in 2014, when a concrete balcony slab at one of the building’s residential units started cracking along its outer edge. That slab was repaired in early 2015, but later that year on July 20, a six-foot piece of concrete spall — that’s engineering lingo for a fragment of material chipped off from a larger object — fell from another one of the tower’s balcony slabs, landing in the building’s 10th-floor dog park.
Thankfully, no one was injured, but subsequent inspections revealed additional spalling, cracking, and staining at the edges of the balcony slabs and other protrusions used to direct the flow of rainwater away from the tower. After this incident, the ACA hired structural engineering firm Pivot to perform testing of the building’s balcony components to determine both the concrete’s condition and the necessary steps required to repair it. The firm’s report concluded:
“That program of inspection and testing […] revealed the existence of construction defects in the concrete, in violation of minimum applicable code requirements and in violation of project specifications, along the exposed concrete slab edges at all residential levels and elevations of the building that are systemic and progressive.”
— Austonian Condominium Association
In response to Pivot’s report, the ACA filed a lawsuit and arbitration against the building’s developer, Second Congress Ltd., an affiliate of Austin firm Benchmark Development. Also named in the suit is construction firm Balfour Beatty, along with Capform Inc. and D’Ambra Steel Services Inc., companies that both worked as subcontractors on the Austonian project. D’Ambra, which specialized in the installation of structural steel, is now defunct after declaring bankruptcy in 2015.
That suit has been settled for an undisclosed sum, but the amount is apparently sufficient to cover the total cost of repairing the defective concrete slabs.
“Based upon existing information, the ACA currently believes that it has received sufficient settlement funds for the ACA to pay all costs associated with needed repairs to the exposed concrete slabs on the residential floors of the building and to reimburse ACA or its members for expenses incurred in connection with the lawsuit and arbitration.”
— Austonian Condominium Association
Keep in mind that the filing of a lawsuit by a homeowner association doesn’t necessarily indicate negligence — it’s a strategic maneuver often necessary to protect the interests of the building’s residential owners. It may sound like excessive legal drama, but a proactive HOA can get in front of problems like these before they get worse, and lawsuits against builders are more common than you’d think.
Glass has fallen from the building at least twice before, once in 2011 and again in 2016, with no injuries taking place on either occasion. It’s unclear if these incidents are connected to the concrete defects in any way, but panes falling from downtown buildings is a relatively common occurrence, and could be completely unrelated to the current situation.
Fortunately for owners at the Austonian, these issues are nearly behind them. As you can see from the current state of the building, repair work is already underway — and apparently has been taking place in some fashion for roughly six months, according to our intel — with about 12 months left before completion.