Elliot Lake mall engineer approved roof despite concerns

The engineer who more than three decades ago oversaw and approved the structural design of the now-collapsed mall in Elliot Lake says he didn't like the idea of a parking lot on the roof.

John Kadlec says he made his doubts known to the owner and architect

John Kadlec was a partner at Beta Engineering and was the structural engineer during construction of Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake during its construction more than 30 years ago. He testified at the Elliot Lake inquiry today. (Supplied )

The engineer who more than three decades ago oversaw and approved the structural design of the now-collapsed mall in Elliot Lake says he didn't like the idea of a parking lot on the roof.

During testimony at a public inquiry into last June's fatal collapse of the Algo Centre Mall, John Kadlec told the commission that, in 1978, he made his concerns about that rooftop parking garage known to both the original owner and the architect.

Despite those concerns, he still put his stamp of approval on the project.

Kadlec also testified that he was aware of leaks soon after construction was done.

Throughout Wednesday, the commission saw inspection reports dated the year the mall opened in 1980. They show several deficiencies that were highlighted in that inspection report — including several leaning columns.

This isn't the first time Kadlec's work has been questioned. He lost his licence for a period of time in the 1990s over problems with several other building projects.

His licence was reinstated by the Professional Engineers of Ontario with conditions in 1999.

Maintenance concerns

Another engineer, Dale Craig, testified at the inquiry on Tuesday. Craig was called by the commission to talk about the construction of buildings like the mall, and was questioned about how they are maintained.

Engineer Dale Craig gave a primer on mall construction during Tuesday's Elliot Lake inquiry proceedings. On Wednesday the inquiry will hear from John Kadlec, the structural engineer involved with the building of the Algo Centre Mall. (Supplied)

Craig said building owners often spend money on repairs instead of maintenance — and usually it's after users of the building complain.

"If you don't have heat, or don't have power, somebody gets upset, there's a complaint, and usually the building maintenance is taken care of," he said.

In the case of the Algo Centre Mall, residents have said their complaints resulted in shoddy repairs that often came months after they were brought to the attention of the mall's owner or the city.

A lawyer representing the Ontario Building Officials Association at the inquiry, Leo Longo, said regular building inspections are not required by the province, despite a recommendation in the building act more than 10 years ago "to establish standards that existing buildings must meet even though no construction is proposed."

However some municipalities use bylaws to regulate building maintenance, Craig said.

In Elliot Lake, a bylaw does exist to ensure buildings are maintained and kept up. That bylaw was established nine years before the Algo Centre mall collapsed.

Craig also noted building codes and construction have evolved since 1979, when the mall was built, and the way construction designs were presented to building owners is now considered obsolete.

"In the older days — back in the '70s and '80s — it would be a hand-drawn perspective of the building from various orientation points," he said, adding that 3D constructs and digital drawings weren't used.

And while several professionals such as engineers, architects and contractors are involved in the building process, Craig said ultimately the owner is responsible.

Document delays

Meanwhile, the commission is preparing to take the mall's owner to court over delays in getting him to turn over thousands of documents and e-mails.

At issue are the inquiry’s efforts to obtain thousands of documents related to the Algo Centre Mall from Bob Nazarian, his wife and son.

Senior counsel Peter Doody said that while some documents have been obtained, further investigation revealed the Nazarians were using different e-mail addresses to do company business.

Doody said an application will be made to the divisional court to find the Nazarians in contempt for not handing over all documentation.

"We’ve received some e-mails that these individuals used from third parties," Doody said.

"We've received none of them from them. And of course, not all of their e-mails. It's the e-mails relevant to the mall and to the business of the inquiry. And so we've asked specifically for production of that, and that's what we hope to achieve."

Doody said he expects the application to be heard in the next two weeks, adding that he hopes the court action doesn't cause a delay in the inquiry.

Nazarian is a key figure in light of allegations that he failed to carry out proper maintenance, which might have averted last June's tragedy that killed two women.

Nazarian has strenuously denied those allegations.

Schedule of 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

Application by John J. Kadlec for reinstatement of his licence in the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario:

With files from Canadian Press