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City Official Did Not Push Mall Repairs

Thursday, March 28, 2013

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Owners of the doomed Elliot Lake mall withheld two engineering reports from local officials detailing the structure's problems, but the city did not demand the reports or order repairs, the city's top building official has testified.

Roger Pigeau, chief building official from 1980 to 1999, said the deadly mall collapse last June could have been prevented had the city known the severity of the water leakage in the structure.

Pigeau told the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry on Friday (March 22) and Monday (March 25) that he had been denied access to a 1991 building inspection report that would have prompted the city to act.

Elliot Lake Inquiry
NORR report / Ontario Provincial Police

Elliot Lake's former chief building official, Roger Pigeau, said mall owners had kept him in the dark about the extent of waterproofing problems at the complex. However, he did not order a property standards inspection while in office.

The doomed Algo Centre Mall, which opened in 1980, partially crashed down June 23, 2012, killing two women and injuring 20 people. Immediately after the collapse, reports emerged about decades of leaks and water damage at the building.

The Commission opened a public hearing March 4 to determine the cause of the collapse and to make recommendations to prevent future incidents.

During video testimony from his home in Clearwater, FL, Pigeau also said he had been aware of leaks at the mall during his tenure, but had not ordered a property standards inspection of the rooftop parking deck.

Suspicions, No Action

Pigeau accused the original mall owners, Algoma Central Properties, of hiding a Trow Engineering report from the city's building department. When his request to see the report findings was denied, he said he became suspicious but took no action.

The 1991 report found that the design of the roof parking slab was inappropriate and incapable of functioning proprerly or of achieving a watertight condition over commercial areas. Building codes require buildings to be watertight.

“After looking at the report, I can see the repairs were exorbitant and should have been addressed immediately,” Pigeau said during his testimony. The first time Pigeau saw the report was in preparation for his testimony in front of the Commission, he said.

Trow Engineering recommended two ways to waterproof the rooftop parking lot in the report, but the mall owners rejected both ideas.

As the city’s chief building official, Pigeau would have been able order the needed repairs under the Elliot Lake Building Code or Ontario Building Code Act. If the mall’s owner ignored the request, the city could have had the repairs completed and sued Algoma Central Properties for the cost.

Trow completed a similar inspection and report on the structure in 1994; Pigeau said he had not been made aware of that report, either.

Deadly Collapse ‘Avoidable’

“It [the mall collapse] could have been avoided,” said Pigeau. “It was within my authority to force repairs.”

Asked why he didn’t demand to see the report after being denied access, he said, “We’re not there to supervise; we’re there to inspect.”

Elliot Lake Inquiry
UStream / Elliot Lake Inquiry

Pigeau said he knew that the roof of the mall leaked but thought the owners were maintaining the issue. He testified that he had had the authority to force repairs.

However, Pigeau further testified that he knew of leaking issues present at the mall, but was confident in the owners’ ability to remedy them and did not order a property standards inspection.

“I wouldn’t drive around looking for infractions,” Pigeau said.

'I Felt Confident'

“I felt confident that they [the mall owners] were working towards a fix for their problems,” he said. “The maintenance staff always seemed diligent to deal with and fix problems.”

Further, he said the city’s inspection process was complaint driven.

“To my knowledge, the leaks occurred on and off. I didn’t receive any complaints from tenants, so I can only assume they were satisfied with repairs.”

A sobering forensic report released during the public inquiry last week detailed the extent of leakage, continuous corrosion of the steel frame, and other waterproofing issues.

The report concluded that it was surprising the failure did not happen years before, considering the state of the structure.

'Bent Over Backwards'

During his testimony, Pigeau also suggested that the city helped fast-track the mall's opening.

For example, the Elliot Lake Property Standards Act requires that owners of any new building submit detailed plans for the proposed structure, according to reports.

However, in this case, some plans for the mall are missing, and Pigeau said they may have not ever been filed.

“The city bent over backwards helping the mall get started,” opined Pigeau, who was not the chief building official at the time.

The former chief building official, Bob Gruhl, died in 1980 and was on sick leave during the mall’s construction, according to the Elliot Lake Standard.

More than 75 witnesses are scheduled to testify at the hearing, which is expected to last until mid-July.

Fred Bauthus, the city’s former chief administrative officer, testified Tuesday (March 26). Robert Leistner, former general manager and vice-president of Algoma Central Properties, testified Wednesday.

   

Tagged categories: Architects; Bridge/parking deck waterproofing; Building design; Building envelope; Fatalities; Health and safety; Inspection; Waterproofing

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