The inquiry in Elliot Lake has learned that a Sault Ste. Marie mall roof failure in 1995 has connections to the fatal mall collapse at the Algo Centre mall. Not only were the two buildings owned by the same company, but they were designed by the same engineer.
It was two weeks before Christmas in 1995 when pieces of steel came crashing down at the Station Mall in Sault Ste. Marie. Within seconds, a common area inside the main entrance was buried beneath a mountain of snow.
Paul Meyer — a structural engineer in the Sault at the time — told the inquiry Thursday he joined rescue crews to dig through the rubble.
"That was ... quite an experience," he recalled. "The first order of business was looking for survivors or victims."
No one was hurt in Sault Ste. Marie — unlike in Elliot Lake this past summer, where the mall roof collapse killed two people and injured dozens more.
Evidence at the inquiry has, however, revealed connections between the malls.
John Kadlec was the engineer responsible for the construction of both shopping centres. In 1994, he lost his engineering licence related to work on other projects.
When Meyer investigated why the roof in the Sault collapsed, he discovered there was a change in its original design during construction.
Meyer was then asked to inspect the mall in Elliot Lake.
"Their concern was, 'OK, do we have the potential for a similar concern about the design of the Algo Centre Mall,'" he said.
Meyer told the inquiry that both collapses were caused by structural failures — but they were different.
The mall in the Sault caved in because of the change during construction, whereas the Elliot Lake mall failed because of corrosion caused by leaking.
Meyer told the inquiry Thursday the mall in Elliot Lake was designed to Ontario Building Code standards, but in his 1994 reports, he didn't comment on whether the design was followed during construction.
When he did his review, he wasn't aware of on-going leaks at the mall, he said. And he didn't review any engineering reports completed prior to his inspection.
No mention was made of the condition of the structural steel, either. The inquiry has heard how water leaked from the roof-top parking deck, became trapped between the slabs of concrete and eventually rusted the beams which caused the roof to fail.
Meyer did, however, warn the mall owners about heavy vehicles and traffic on the roof, and recommended the owners install non-removable barriers at the entrances to prevent large vehicles from driving up to the parking deck.