NEWS

Elliot Lake Mall Patched 'On The Cheap,' Ex-Manager Says

06/29/2012 09:54 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT
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Investigators are still trying to determine what caused a deadly roof collapse at an Elliot Lake, Ont., mall, but a former mall manager says the owner was aware of ongoing problems with the roof and failed to follow through on expert advice on how to repair it.

Part of the roof collapsed and killed two women on the afternoon of June 23 in the former mining community northwest of Sudbury, Ont.

"The whole mall was held together with Band-Aids and duct tape," said Brian England, one of five mall managers since Bob Nazarian, Richmond Hill, Ont., based businessman who has a history in owning malls, bought the mall in 2005.

"We had the opportunity to do it up right, but he chose to do it on the cheap, or not at all."

Nazarian's lawyer Antoine-René Fabris addressed a press conference Thursday, offering "our deepest and most sincere condolences."

Fabris also said a million dollars was spent on renovations but he did not specify what work was done, over how long a period, or whether a proper membrane was ever installed to cap the roof.

He said he wasn't at liberty to say much about the case because he expects litigation.

Nazarian, who wasn't at Thursday's press conference in Elliot Lake, has been the subject of some threats, his lawyer said.

Reached by phone Friday morning, Nazarian declined to comment further.

"I have put my heart and my soul into it," he told CBC News. "I have worked so hard. I'm sorry I cannot talk to you."

Some repairs done

England, who managed the mall between 2007 and 2008, said some caulking was done along the roof in 2007 to address continuing complaints about water seepage. But snowplows over that winter undid their work, and plans were made to fix the roof properly.

Architect John Clinckett of Kitchener, Ont., was hired to oversee the roof renovation project, which was announced in June 2008. It would include a protective membrane over the entire roof to prevent water seepage, and a thin layer of asphalt to maintain the rooftop parking.

The plan was approved by Nazarian, England said, and Canadian Construction Controls, of Breslau, Ont., was hired to install a membrane to be constructed by Carlisle Syntec Systems.

"It was good days then," said England. "All these stores had been phoning me on a daily basis to complain about water damage.

"Finally, something was being done."

England said Nazarian returned from overseas before they began work. The former manager said Nazarian complained about the million-dollar pricetag and cancelled the contract, England said.

Within a month, the Toronto-area businessman had hired Peak Restoration, England said.

A crew began to repair the roof drains but when they asked Nazarian for more money to order the membrane and complete the job, they too were fired, says England. England left his job shortly after, in summer 2008. To his knowledge, the roof was repaired by the maintenance staff at the mall.

Nazarian's lawyer said Thursday that the work that was done according to manufacturers' specifications and the mall was inspected on a regular basis.

Ray Leblanc, a former member of the maintenance staff, told CBC News last night that all they did after Peak left was their regular maintenance on the roof.

"We used a polyurethane self-levelling compound to fill the seams between the core slabs to keep the water out," said Leblanc, who worked at the mall from 1991 to 2010. "It cost $110 a can, and we used a lot of them, but nowhere near a million dollars worth."

The mall owner had drawn controversy before the mall roof collapsed. During his seven years owning the mall, he has been involved in several lawsuits, over a range of issues related to the mall, including failure to pay.

Both England and Dave Brunet, an Elliot Lake plumber who had done work at the mall over the year, said Nazarian had a bad history of paying his bills and struggled to find contractors.

Eight months before the roof collapsed, Brunet was working on a drain near the area that would later collapse. He noticed that there were obvious signs of water damage.

"Everybody always questioned and said someday something's going to happen to that mall," said Brunet. "A piece of something's going to come off that roof and possibly hurt somebody."

Christine Stoddart, a cook at a restaurant in the mall, Hungry Jack's, said a piece of concrete fell through the ceiling of the restaurant on a Sunday when it was closed last summer.

"I got a ladder and went up to take some pictures," Stoddart said. "I put my hand on the ceiling tiles, and it was mush up there."

"We reported it to mall management and city hall. There was supposed to be an inspector two weeks after it happened, but no one came to talk about it."

The mall manager at the time said a full report went to the mall owner, Stoddart said, but she never heard anything about it afterward.

Hungry Jack’s was right next to where the mall roof collapsed.

The mall, which was purchased in 2005 for $6.2 million, was up for sale for $9.9 million in 2010.

After an arduous five-day rescue mission which ended with the retrieval of two bodies, Premier Dalton McGuinty promised Thursday that his province will "carefully review" how it responded to the collapse.

The regional coroner's office, with the assistance of provincial police, is already probing the deaths of two women who died when an avalanche of concrete and metal crashed through a part of the mall.

The Ministry of Labour, which visited the shopping centre six times in the last three years, is also investigating.

To add to those efforts, McGuinty said the province would be examining the incident in its entirety, which would include placing the history of the mall under "intense review."

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