Collapsed mall library workers were 'fed up' with constant leaks

A former chief librarian has told the public inquiry into the fatal mall roof collapse in Elliot Lake that the public library leaked until the day the roof caved in last year.

Elliot Lake library was an 'anchor tenant' in the Algo Centre mall

Barbara Fazekas, former chief librarian in Elliot Lake, Ont., testfied Wednesday at the mall-collapse inquiry in the northern Ontario town. (Colin Perkel/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The former chief librarian of the Elliot Lake Public Library continued to paint a troubling picture of nearly two decades of leaking water coming through the library ceiling at the now-collapsed Algo Centre Mall.

Letters written by library officials — including chief librarian Barara Fazekas — complained of near-constant leaks. Those letters were read aloud at the public inquiry hearings currently underway to look into the fatal mall roof collapse and the emergency response surrounding it.

The letters, which were sent to the city and the mall owners as early as 1991, talk about a floor littered with buckets and large garbage pails collecting water.

One letter to the city said 123 wet and browning ceiling tiles had to be replaced over the course of 10 years.

"They were fed up with water dripping down their necks from ceiling leaks when they were in the stacks," said commission lawyer Nadia Effendi, who read one of the letters during Tuesday’s proceedings.

"[There was] water on the floor in the bathroom, buckets everywhere and plastic sheets having to be placed over the stacks, every night when rain is promised."

Tarps and buckets

Another letter gave details of a vein of water running from the library all the way to the food court — where the ceiling came crashing down on June 23 of last year, killing Lucie Aylwin and Dolores Perizzolo.

In 1989, the library moved into the Algo Centre Mall and signed a 20-year lease.

Within a few years, dozens of books were sheltered by large blue tarps, and plastic buckets lined the floors to catch drips.

Fazekas told the commission that this wasn't the first time she had to deal with water damage in the library.

"This has been my career," she said ruefully.

For several years, the library was located across the street from the Algo Mall.

Fazekas said that building was eventually deemed unsafe, ironically because of leaking.

'Anchor tenant'

The city then hired an architect to build a stand-alone building for the library.

But when city funds fizzled out, so did that idea.

"We were so disappointed," she said. "We were crushed. It was difficult, very disappointing."

Following the city’s decision, the public library moved into the Algo Centre Mall, even though they knew about the problems with leaking and water damage.

"The library would act as, what they call, an anchor tenant, because we would occupy 8,500 square feet," she said.

No criminal charges or civil liability will come from the public inquiry, which was established shortly after the fatal collapse. The commission, headed by Justice Paul Belanger, will come up with recommendations to help prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

The inquiry is expected to run until mid-July.

Schedule of testimony:

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

What is the Elliot Lake Inquiry?

The Elliot Lake Inquiry was established on July 19, 2012 by the Government of Ontario under the Public Inquiries Act, 2009.

Its mandate is to inquire into and report on events surrounding the collapse on June 23, 2012, of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, the deaths of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo and the injuries to other individuals as well as the emergency management and response.

The Commission is to review relevant legislation, regulations and bylaws, policies processes and procedures of provincial and municipal governments and other parties with respect to the structural integrity of the Algo Centre Mall and the emergency management and response. The Commission is to make recommendations to prevent such occurrences in the future. 

The commission does not exist to lay the foundation for criminal charges or civil liability. It is not a trial. No legal determinations will be made. The strict rules of evidence that govern in a court of law do not apply. The Commission makes its own rules, in consultation with the participants with the end goal of determining why this tragedy happened, how the emergency response and management was carried out and how things might be improved to prevent repetition.