Now the questions begin 0
A worker can be seen on the second floor of the damaged Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake on June 23, 2012. (Courtesy of Paul Kazulak)
ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. -- The Algo Centre Mall was plagued with problems from the very beginning and just about everyone knew it was a disaster waiting to happen.
But for 30 years residents threw caution to the wind, ignored the warning signs and their gut, and continued to shop and socialize in the shopping centre.
After all, it’s the former mining city’s only mall and for most of the last three decades, it was the only place to buy groceries and clothing.
“I often joke to friends in the mall that I’d forgotten my umbrella,” Andre Rheaume said Friday.
He said the mall leaked badly after each rainfall and buckets were strewn about to catch the water.
The leaks were bad enough that Rheaume and many others also joked they were taking bets on when the roof would collapse.
But last Saturday afternoon the joke stopped being funny when a 12 metre by 24 metre section of the concrete roof collapsed, killing two women and flooding the mall’s foyer with stagnant water.
“I never thought it would collapse where it did,” Rheaume said. “I always thought it would be Zellers because where most of the buckets were.”
The problem was so glaring that many people stopped parking in the rooftop lot. The parking spots above Zellers were apparently almost always empty.
Many residents believe the lot was the source of the trouble. Some claim the rooftop parking wasn’t in the original plans when construction began in 1979, it was added midway through.
Many citizens also allege the mall, which cost about $10 million to erect, was hastily built when the city’s uranium mining industry was booming.
It began springing leaks within a year.
Current owner, Bob Nazarian, knew it leaked when he purchased the mall for $6.2 million in 2005.
The Toronto-area businessman pledged to renovate and he ultimately spent more than $1 million on repairs — mostly on the leaky roof.
Many residents allege those repairs were haphazard, so the leaks persisted and mould became an issue.
At least one business cleared out and the public library had to hang tarps in an effort to protect its books.
Yet somehow the mall passed numerous inspections by the Ministry of Labour, as many as six in the last few years.
Engineers from the Ministry were back at the mall Friday, inspecting its structural integrity to determine if it can be fixed or if it must be levelled.
The mall owner’s lawyer, Antoine-Rene Fabris, said his client has “no intention of leaving this community.”
“One day this mall will be up again,” he vowed.
Nazarian, who has apparently had death threats and is facing a possible class-action lawsuit, is taking a lot of heat since the disaster.
But residents say the company that built the mall, the previous owner, the province and City Council all share in the blame.
“We all continued to shop at the mall, so I think we have to blame ourselves as well,” said Fern Dumas, a longtime Elliot Laker.
Do you think the province was prompt enough in its response to the tragic mall collapse in Elliot Lake?