Collapsed mall plagued by faulty expansion joint

A failure of one of the expansion joints in the Algo Centre Mall may have played a role in the Elliot Lake mall fatal cave-in last June.

Elliot Lake public inquiry hears steel expansion joint wasn't sticking to concrete

A man leans on a column next to the collapsed roof of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ont. on Saturday June 23, 2012. (Paul Kazulak/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A failure of one of the expansion joints in the Algo Centre Mall may have played a role in the Elliot Lake mall’s fatal cave-in last June.

The joints were effectively the seams between three parts of the whole structure, which included the hotel, the parking garage and the shopping mall.

At the public inquiry Wednesday, Rod Caughill, an employee of the original owners who oversaw some of the mall maintenance, said the joint over the mall's escalator was replaced twice over the years because it kept tearing.

The inquiry also went over several items of correspondence that detailed complaints, ongoing leaks and expensive payouts to a tenant with water-damaged goods.

In a letter dated 1981, the mall owners complained to the company in charge of waterproofing the roof. The letter pointed to an inspection done by one of the water-proofers in the ceiling above the escalator which stated a three-foot section of the steel expansion joint wasn't sticking to the concrete.

That, in turn, let water from the roof-top deck seep into one of the building’s seams.

The inquiry also heard there was more drive-through traffic on the rooftop parking lot of the Elliot Lake mall than designers ever planned for — with local traffic cutting across the parking lot area to avoid an intersection. The extra traffic led to increased vibration on the mall's concrete structure.

Mall management tried to put an end to the traffic with barriers, but there was little compliance.

Two women died when the roof caved in last year.

Schedule of testimony:

March 11 James 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 14 Domenic 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.