It isn't uncommon for smaller communities to have a difficult time affording top building officials, says an engineer and the first witness to appear before a public inquiry into last June's fatal roof collapse at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake.

Using diagrams, slides and a 3D structure, Dale Craig described in detail how mall buildings are constructed. Craig — an Ottawa-based engineer whose company's work includes projects in Sudbury — outlined the roles of key players in building construction, including engineers, contractors and owners.

He said the owner of the building, however, is ultimately responsible for the structural integrity.

With a population of 12,000 people in Elliot Lake, what the municipality could afford when it came time to build the mall could become key information as the evidence unfolds.

Structural integrity unknown

Another piece of information that has been reported is that the mall's original structural engineer later lost his licence and faced fines as a result of other jobs in which he was involved.

People in the tight-knit community have said they complained about leaking, rusty pipes and broken ceiling tiles at the mall ever since the building was constructed about three decades ago.

Craig said he doesn't know yet if the structural integrity of the Algo Centre Mall is to blame for the collapse of the roof, which after crashing down last June fatally trapped two women under the rubble.

One of the key issues is maintenance — whether enough was done in light of persistent leaking. A series of engineering reports over a decade urged remedial work to prevent water penetration and road-salt corrosion. There was a carpark on the mall's rooftop.

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Douglas Elliott, the lawyer representing community groups, speaks during a public inquiry into the Algo Centre Mall roof collapse. He says evidence will show that issues with leaking at the mall were noticed by citizens and reported. The mall's roof partially collapsed in June of last year, killing two women and injuring several others. (CBC)

'None of them ever worked'

The lawyer representing community groups at the inquiry said there is proof a membrane used to waterproof the mall was never installed.

"Our clients believe that this realization should have become obvious long before the collapse," Douglas Elliott said.

"We know that many regulators, professionals and trades studied the leaks, and studied them again but every time, just Band-Aid solutions were tried, and none of them ever worked."

Elliott said the various owners of the Algo Centre Mall over the years were aware of this issue but didn't act on it.

The inquiry was launched to investigate why the roof of the mall collapsed last June, killing two women and injuring several more. It will also look at whether enough was done to save the two women who died beneath the rubble.

The hearings are expected to last until mid-summer.

Schedule of upcoming testimony:

March 4

Commissioner's opening remarks; preliminary matters 

March 5

Dale Craig, expert, engineer J.L. Richards, overview of the construction of a building and state of the art in roofing at time of construction

March 6John Kadlec, partner at Beta Engineering, structural engineer during construction of Algo Centre Mall 
March 7

Dave Monroe, former vice president of Harry S. Peterson, Algo Centre Mall roofing system

Doug Harman, vice president and general manager, Coreslab, supplied concrete slab

March 8Henry Jasskelainen, former supervisor of Harry S. Peterson, installed roofing system and conducted repairs
March 11James Keywan, architect, retained by Algoma Central Properties for the design of the Algo Centre Mall
March 12 & 13 

Barbara Fazekas, former chief librarian, Elliot Lake Public Library

Rod Caughill, former development supervisor, Algoma Central Properties

March 14Domenic Dell'Aquilla (Trow), engineer, hired by Algoma Central Properties

 

More information about the inquiry can be found on its official website at www.elliotlakeinquiry.ca, where the hearings are being broadcast live.

Below is one of thousands of documents being reviewed by the inquiry:

"Engineered Waterproofing System for the Roof Top Parking Area of Elliot Lake Commercial Center" April 1979

With files from Canadian press