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Mall Principals Tied to ‘95 Collapse

Monday, April 8, 2013

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Both the engineer and owner of the doomed Elliot Lake mall had similar connections to a Michigan mall that partially collapsed in 1995, the Elliot Lake Commission Inquiry learned last week.

Paul Meyer, a structural engineer, told the commission that he had been called in to do a “design check” on the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, several weeks after the December 1995 failure of the Station Mall in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.

Like the Algo Centre Mall, the Station Mall was designed by structural engineer John Kadlec and owned by Algoma Central Properties, testimony at the inquiry showed.

No one was injured in the Station Mall collapse. Two people were killed, and dozens injured, when the rooftop parking deck caved in last June on the Algo Centre Mall.

Using actual footage and animation, Trow Engineering created this video account of the parking deck's collapse at the Algo Centre Mall. The video was released as an appendix to Trow's 700-page analysis of the fatal incident.

The Algo Centre collapse has been blamed on a severely corroded weld connection that failed due to unremitting leaking in the structure, which opened in 1980.

Station Mall Collapse

After the Station Mall collapse, structural engineer Paul Meyer was asked by mall owner Algoma to investigate. Meyer, then of Sault Ste. Marie, had previously worked with architect-engineer Bruce Caughill, the brother of Rod Caughill, an executive with Algoma.

Meyer testified last week that he had “done a fairly detailed review of the [Station Mall] design” after that accident. That review revealed that there had been a change in the mall design during construction, he said.

Several weeks after the Station Mall accident, Meyer said, Rod Caughill of Algoma asked him to look at the Algo Centre Mall in Ontario, which had a “very similar” Gerber girder design and had also been designed by Kadlec.

At the time of the Station Mall collapse, Kadlec had lost his engineering license because of work on other projects and was living outside the United States.

‘The Decision was Made’

Kadlec testified early in the inquiry that he had approved the structure despite missing bolts, crooked columns and corrosion on new steel beams, and other evidence of significant problems.

John Kadlec

John Kadlec signed off on the Algo Centre Mall after noting "sloppy workmanship."

“I’d never seen that many deficiencies in my life before,” testified Kadlec, who had worked for Beta Engineering of Toronto. “I sent letters warning [the owner] about sloppy workmanship.”

Kadlec also said he “didn’t like” the design of the rooftop parking deck but agreed to it. “I was a small man, but the decision was made somewhere else,” he said.

He said he signed off on the project after inspection reports indicated that the problems had been addressed.

‘Design Check’

The Algo Centre owners’ “concern was, ‘OK, do we have a potential for a similar concern about the design of the Algo Centre Mall that we had at the Station Mall?’” Meyer testified.

Meyer agreed to review the Algo Centre structure. However, he emphasized in his testimony that his role at Algo Centre had been limited to “design, check and review services” rather than a full-fledged structural analysis.

He also described his earlier work at the Station Mall as a “design check.”

Rod Caughill

Rod Caughill's Algoma Central Properties owned both malls that failed.

Commission Counsel Bruce Carr-Harris noted in questioning that Rod Caughill had rejected a more comprehensive engineering review proposed by Trow Engineering.

Trow had determined in the early 1990s that leaking was damaging Algo Centre and had recommended comprehensive waterproofing for the structure—an option Caughill rejected as too expensive.

Carr-Harris cited a notation in records by Caughill that a Trow analysis would have cost more than $17,000. The review would have included removing portions of structural steel for strength testing, welding inspection, torque testing, chloride ion testing, and other testing and analysis.

‘Is Anything Obviously Wrong?’

Meyer’s more limited $4,200 review, in contrast, focused on “spot checking” to verify that “the connections are of the right type” and that the structure conformed to its design. He also reviewed whether the designs conformed to building codes of the time.

The work did not include weld inspections or a “general review to identify any deteriorated structural components,” Meyer said.

Within that scope, his review found nothing amiss, he said.

Paul Meyer

Engineer Paul Meyer said his "design check" of Algo Centre in 1996 showed nothing "obviously wrong." The structure was similar to one that had failed weeks earlier.

“…I think the question was, ‘Is there obviously anything wrong with this?’” Meyer testified. “And the answer is ‘No, there is not anything obviously wrong.’”

“So that is how you interpret your mandate? ‘Is anything obviously wrong?’” Carr-Harris asked.


Minor Rust

Meyer said he had observed some minor surface rusting, consistent with that expected of steel erected outdoors “long before the building goes up.”

Separately, Meyer said, he was also summoned by Algoma in late August 1996 because of a gap in the precast slabs in the Algo Centre parking deck.

Meyer said the “biggest thing we noticed” during that investigation “was that there had been a fair bit of longitudinal cracking showing up on some of the precast concrete slabs at the expansion joint, and that was the immediate concern.”

Meyer later proposed that the owners install a permanent gate to keep large trucks and vehicles off the parking deck. The owners declined.

Carr-Harris also asked Meyer if he had been made “aware that the parking structure had been leaking chloride-ridden water virtually since it was constructed.”

Meyer said he had not.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Architects; Building design; Concrete; Engineers; Inspection; Moisture management; Program/Project Management; Retail; Steel; Structural steel

Comment from Bill Connor, Jr., (4/8/2013, 11:26 PM)

I hope the tightwad owner of this building goes to jail. The "do it on the cheap" attitude was directly responsible for two deaths. This project was deficient from the very beginning. Somebody has to be held responsible.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (4/10/2013, 11:42 AM)

Bill, I may be cynical and as nice as it would be, chances are they'll never see the inside of a prison cell. Probably get soaked in civil litigation, but I doubt they'll get jail time.

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