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Water Woes Swamp Doomed Mall Probe

Monday, May 13, 2013

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A flood of evidence and testimony about decades of leaks­—and the unwillingness and/or inability to fix them, despite lawsuits and city orders to do so—continues to dominate the hearing into the deadly collapse of an Ontario shopping mall.

Most recently, a contractor who was hired to waterproof the doomed mall detailed multiple problems on the short-lived project that ended with the mall owner firing him.

Glen Day
Photos: Elliot Lake Inquiry

Contractor Glen Day said the specified waterproofing system exceeded the weight load of the rooftop deck, but "I’m not the one writing the cheques, so I do as I’m told."

From specified products that were too heavy for the roof, to cost cutting by the facility owner, to an order to fire one of his own workers, Glen Day attested to various problems throughout his futile attempt to install a waterproofing system at the leaky Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake.

Meanwhile, a former mall manager said he was never told that city building officials had cited the property owner over the leaks. And a group of citizens is demanding an investigation into a government ministry that repeatedly inspected the structure without flagging its many problems.

Day 40

Day testified on Day 40 of the Elliot Lake Inquiry, a public judicial hearing that began March 4 into the June 2012 collapse of the mall’s rooftop parking deck. Two women were crushed to death, and two dozen other occupants were injured.

The rooftop parking deck's hollow-core slabs were topped directly with concrete, with no waterproofing installed between the layers, witnesses said.

The cause of the collapse was quickly traced to the failure of a weld in a support beam underneath the parking deck. The weld had rusted through, due to chronic, heavy leaking at the mall that began the day the structure opened. Engineers said in a 700-page forensic study that the mall's aggressive corrosion was similar to that seen in a marine environment.

Previous testimony and evidence has revealed that the mall’s original and later owners declined a permanent waterproofing solution because of the cost. Other testimony and evidence has revealed shoddy construction and substandard materials used in the structure.

In April, an engineer who declared the mall “structurally sound” weeks before the cave-in was charged in the case.

Problem-Plagued Project

In his turn on the stand, Day testified at length about his attempts to work with current mall owner Bob Nazarian beginning in June 2008.

Day said Nazarian had hired his company, Peak Restoration, to install a waterproofing system at the mall. A walk-through of the complex with then-mall manager Brian England showed “chunks” of fallen concrete, "a lot of corrosion" on beams, water-stained ceiling tiles and pails on the floor, all attesting to the mall's 28 years of leaks.

In fact, Day said he remembered coming to the mall “as a kid… and it was always leaking back then as well.”

Day also noted that the rooftop parking deck had been constructed of hollow-core concrete slabs covered directly with four inches of concrete, without waterproofing in between. Although he emphasized that he is not an engineer, Day said he thought "there was a lot of steel that would have to be replaced because it was just gone too far.”

Solution 'Not Feasible'

Day says he told both England and Nazarian of his concerns, only to learn later that the problem had been extensively studied by independent engineers and by the coating contractor.

Algo Centre Mall

A laborer's warning to one store's occupants to watch for falling concrete panicked shoppers and employees. The mall owner ordered the worker fired.

After reviewing one of those engineering reports, he said, he also realized that the hot-applied waterproofing system specified for the project “wasn’t feasible because it was going to be too heavy.” The system called for installing three inches of asphalt on top of the coating product.

“[T]here was no way, by doing it the way it was spec'd, that it was going to pass the payload,” Day said.

He also worried about the weight of the equipment required for the project, but he said “everybody … knew all about” the weight load and he was “just the one that’s working there."

"I’m not the one writing the cheques, so I do as I’m told,” he testified.

Seeking Options: 'You Don't Want This'

Day said options—smaller equipment, a thinner coating system, less asphalt—were discussed to lighten the load.

Nazarian asked “if it was feasible for us to take some of the concrete off the top,” but Day said “it was just going to cost way too much money.”

Emails showed that Nazarian's architect also warned against the plan because it would “weaken the existing slabs. You don’t want this.” The architect added: How do you think by adding work you can get the project done cheaper?”

In a separate letter, the coating system manufacturer also insisted on the three-inch layer.

Payment Disputes

Day also described problems in getting paid by Nazarian. He also recalled insisting that Nazarian pay for the materials quickly because the prices were about to increase.

Algo Centre Mall

A incident reconstruction by engineers showed that the deck failed in one second.

While Day and Nazarian were wrangling over money, Day testified, Nazarian received a phone call saying that one of Day's workers had alarmed the mall's occupants.

The worker had been told to go into the store directly below the rooftop work site and warn shoppers to keep clear of falling concrete. Instead, the occupants got the impression from the worker that the roof was going to collapse. A panic, and evacuation, ensued.

Nazarian insisted on the spot that Day fire the worker, and he did.

Termination

Unknown to Day at the time, the site had also been cited for lack of a building permit.

Meanwhile, “copious amounts of water" were still pouring into the building. A temporary membrane (blue skin) applied over the expansion joints at the start of the waterproofing project did not help. Nor was it intended to, said Day. But Nazarian became angry and finally fired him on July 17.

Day then put a lien on the building, to get money he said was due. Nazarian countersued for $2 million, saying Day’s firm had caused the leaks.

Months later, when Nazarian wanted to sell the building, Day said he agreed to reduce the lien to get his money, but the deal “fell through.”

“But you never received any money?” the lawyer asked Day.

“I didn’t receive any money.”

Sophie Dennis

Residents were outraged by the testimony from Sophie Dennis, of the Occupational Health and Safety Office. Dennis said her office never sent engineers to examine the mall, despite knowing of its problems.

Soon afterward, Nazarian also fired both Day's replacement on the project and England.

Investigation Urged

England was mall manager from February to July of 2008 but had consulted on repairs to the building since 2006. He said a waterproofing membrane had been estimated at $903,241.

England testified at the hearing, however, that he was never told that a city building official had issued a violation notice violation regarding the roof in October 2006.

No membrane was ever installed, England said, because Nazarian wanted a cheaper alternative.

Meanwhile, outside the hearing room, a local citizens’ group has called for an investigation into the actions of Ministry of Labour officials who inspected the mall in the years before the deadly cave-in.

The Elliot Lake Mall Action Committee (ELMAC) said the government should have acted sooner to prevent the incident. Sophie Dennis, an official of the Occupational Health and Safety Office, testified earlier  that her agency had inspected the structure more than 30 times since 1995 and knew of the water problems, but never sent engineers to study the damage.

   

Tagged categories: Asphalt; Commercial contractors; Concrete slab waterproofing; Industrial Contractors; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; North America; Waterproofing; Waterproofing membranes

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