Residents forced out of Tampa luxury condo after sprinkler flood [12-2014]

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

By Susan Taylor Martin

Published December 8, 2014

TAMPA — Hurricane season is over but residents of one luxury Tampa condo tower have been flooded out of their homes — by a broken sprinkler system.

Thousands of gallons of water cascaded down stairwells and poured through light fixtures of the Stovall on Bayshore Boulevard on Nov. 4 when a worker, about to fall off scaffolding, broke a sprinkler pipe that he had grabbed to steady himself.

There was so much water in parts of the 22-story tower that it looked like Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, as a Tampa Fire Rescue captain put it.

Electricity remains shut off to all 33 units and residents have spent the past month in hotels, second homes or bunking with relatives.

Despite damages estimated in the millions, “all in all, the building will be whole again before Christmas and hopefully within the next week,” Gloria Giunta, president of the condominium association, said Thursday.

Giunta said she was away from the Stovall that Tuesday morning when she looked down at her cellphone. “I was getting calls from everyone,” she said. Giunta hurried home to find that firefighters already had responded to an automatic fire alarm in the building at 3203 Bayshore Blvd.

Jason Penny, a spokesman for Tampa Fire Rescue, said water was dripping from the light fixtures as the fire crew entered the lobby. A security supervisor told them that a person doing drywall work had accidentally broken a sprinkler pipe while helping to renovate an 11th floor unit.

The firefighters headed up and quickly turned off the sprinkler pump. But water already was inches deep in that apartment and flowing down the stairs and into 19 other units.

“You can’t turn off gravity,” Penny said.

A broken sprinkler at the Stovall, on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, sent water tumbling down and residents out of their homes on Nov. 4. Electricity remains off, but the condo president is optimistic.

Water was shut off to the entire building, and ServPro, a disaster response service, was soon “up and running with blowers and dehumidifiers and everything you could possibly think of to get the building stable,” Giunta said.

Like several other owners, Giunta is staying in a nearby hotel while her unit is repaired. She said damage varied from “very minimal to a little bit more,” especially in apartments with wood floors that warped. The building’s electrical system also sustained substantial damage.

Giunta said the units are habitable but that residents temporarily moved out because of the lack of power.

Contractors’ and homeowners’ insurance is expected to cover the costs; Giunta would not say if any legal action is being considered. The worker who broke the pipe was not injured, she said.

Completed in 2001, the Stovall is home to several prominent residents, including Bruce Samson, former president of the University of Tampa, and Don DeFosset, chairman of the Tampa Sports Authority. Most of the units are assessed in the high six figures.

“It’s absolutely the best building with the best neighbors,” Giunta said. “Because it’s a smaller condo with only two units per floor, we’ve very close-knit.”

And perhaps fitter than they used to be.

“The elevators were down for a while,” Giunta said. “It was very good because we got to do a lot of stair-walking. I think we all lost a few pounds.”