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Contractor: No decision yet on demolishing Waukesha condo building

Two workmen remove balconies on Friday from the 48-unit Horizon West Condominium Building at 315 N. West Ave., Waukesha. The building was evacuated after inspectors warned it might collapse after they found some of its supports had been compromised. (Staff photo by Dan Shaw)

A contractor hired to help make repairs to an unstable condominium building in Waukesha says no official decision has yet been made about whether to demolish the structure after it was evacuated last week.

Steve McGuire, president of Pewaukee-based design-build company McGuire Contractors, said his company was brought under contract in October to remove balconies from the 48-unit Horizon West condominium building in Waukesha. It was during that work that his crews discovered other signs of structural decay and called in city officials, who later deemed the building unsafe and ordered it evacuated Thursday night.

“There’s no decision at this standpoint about if we are going to retrofitting it to make it safe or if we are going to demolish the building,” McGuire said. “The condo owners are trying to get over the shock of what they have going on.”

McGuire said the building’s balconies were discovered to be in poor condition nearly two years ago when a large storm came through Waukesha and ripped away a couple of aluminum soffits that had served as coverings. The removal of the soffits exposed the balconies’ metal structures, which were being eaten away by rust. The balconies have been closed ever since, McGuire said.

By noon Friday, the contractor had installed structural shoring to prevent the building’s imminent collapse. The project allowed a street in front of the condominium to be re-opened and buildings next to Horizon West to be re-occupied, Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard said during a news conference later that day.

Howard said in a “strange way” the storm that ripped soffits from the building exposed damage that may not have been discovered otherwise.

“By peeling that soffit off, it really exposed problems that were there that probably wouldn’t have been detected until something catastrophic happened with the balcony,” he said.

The building, which was completed in 1966, is owned by 48 residents with condos inside. Howard said the building’s design is “unique” in Waukesha and that he wasn’t aware of other buildings with similar structural defects.

The building’s balconies were last in use in June 2020, when the city of Waukesha responded to a complaint about their condition and ordered the Horizon West Condominium Association, which manages the building, to close them off. The city also ordered the condo association to repair the balconies and conduct an engineering analysis, according to a timeline of events released on Friday by Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly’s office.

The condo association spent months in 2020 and 2021 trying to hire a contractor for the repair project. The city and the Waukesha Fire Department conducted additional inspections during that time. In September, as the condition of the balconies worsened and debris began dropping from the structures, the city ordered fencing installed around the building.

After McGuire Contractors made its initial discoveries in October, further inspections were conducted the following month by a third-party structural engineer hired by the city, as well as the Fire Department. On Tuesday, a preliminary report from an independent structural engineer found deficiencies in the building’s load-bearing structures.

The city received “additional data” on Thursday afternoon after further site visits and analysis led Waukesha to evacuate the building later that evening. In all, 65 residents were told to find housing elsewhere.

The Daily Reporter’s Dan Shaw also contributed to this report.

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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