Waukesha condo evacuation: Building temporarily braced, 65 displaced

A Waukesha condominium building that had reported structural issues in June 2020 has been fully evacuated due to the threat of a building collapse, a news release from the mayor's office said Friday, Dec. 3.

Sixty-five residents of the Horizon West Condominium Homes building were evacuated Thursday night by the fire department "due to deteriorating structural conditions at the building."

An independent structural engineering report found the building is "at an imminent threat of collapse due to compromised conditions of existing structural columns," police said.

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McGuire Contractors installed temporary bracing to reinforce a structural column Friday. The contractor working on the project told FOX6 News nobody will ever live in the building again.

"Right now the building has been temporarily shored, which takes away the immediate threat of collapse. Which makes it safe for us to open up the street in front of the building. The residences – the two (neighboring) buildings – will be able to be reoccupied," said Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard.

Howard said that, according to structural engineers and the available information, the building should be safe enough to avoid collapsing Friday night, but he is "not qualified to make that determination." 

An hour's notice is extreme to force people from their homes, but Howard said the choice was clear.

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"When a structural engineer tells you everybody needs to immediately get out, that’s pretty straightforward," Howard said.

Howard, as well as the mayor and city administrator, met with the condo board and engineers. The fire chief said it was mainly a rust problem on the building, which was built in 1966 and is owned by the 48 unit owners.

Maintenance concerns

Friday's work was done so that it would be safe to reopen the road and allow the people next door back into their homes. 

Howard explained that the issues are due to a combination of factors, including damage from a 2019 wind storm, were revealed when removing balconies.

"You had a column that had two balconies attaching it, so it was attached at multiple floors. In order to remove the load of the balconies, the tie braces had to be removed so you had a column that was very weak and loose," Howard said.

Horizon West Condominium Homes in Waukesha

Questions remain about the building's maintenance.

"The vast majority of the time, the common theme is that the board was paralyzed by indecision," said Todd Walter.

Walter is the Reserve Advisors great lakes regional executive director – a company that helps condo associations create financial plans to prevent things like this from happening.

Horizon West Condominium Homes in Waukesha

Reserve Advisors has not worked with the Horizon West building but told FOX6 it is likely that maintenance had been put off.

"There is certainly an issue within community associations where the conditions are allowed to deteriorate well past the point where they should have been addressed because of financial issues, because the association doesn’t have the money to fund the project," Walter said.

Timeline of reported issues

According to a news release from Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly's office Friday afternoon, the city has been aware of issues with the Horizon West Condominium over the last year and a half. 

In 2020 and 2021, the condo association made multiple attempts to hire contractors, the release said. 

  • June 2020: Complaints of structural issues of the balconies were reported by residents. Those issues were ordered to be remedied. An engineering analysis was also to be completed and provided to the city.
  • October 2021: The balconies were ordered to come down, and more structural deficiencies were uncovered in the frame and columns.
  • November 30: A structural engineer noted deficiencies in the load-bearing structure of the building. The city was then informed to decide next steps.

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