TORONTO - The Elliott Lake mall whose roof collapsed over the weekend, killing at least one person, had a history of complaints about leaks and mould going back years, according to information from the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
The ministry paid six visits to the Algo Shopping Centre over the last three years, most of which related to complaints about reported leaky pipes, a leaky roof, mould, and an unsafe escalator, an official said.
Matt Blajer, a spokesman for the ministry, also confirmed in an email that there was no construction taking place on the site at the time of the roof's collapse.
The most recent visit was Jan. 11 in response to a complaint of a leaky roof, but no orders were issued, the ministry said.
Eastwood Mall Inc., the company that owns the mall, provided information regarding ongoing maintenance planned "and a permanent fix for spring/summer 2012," Blajer wrote in an email.
He said officials also paid a visit to the site four other times between November 2010 and August 2011 to follow up on other complaints, but didn't find anything related to the complaints that violated the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
On Nov. 17, 2010, an inspector visited the site after receiving a complaint there were leaking pipes in mall offices. The plumbing staff were on site replacing the entire piping system, the ministry said.
The ministry said it followed up in January and found that Eastwood Mall had complied with the orders and the plumbing was replaced.
The ministry said an inspector returned on June 1, 2011, after it received a complaint that there was a leaky roof, mould and an unsafe escalator. The inspector found no violations related to the complaint, but issued two orders related to the training of workers handling hazardous material and the reporting of the materials.
Again, Eastwood Mall complied with the directives and no further orders were issued, the ministry said.
Back in 2009, the ministry issued a stop work order related to the use of a skyjack lifting device to paint structural beams outside the mall. It ordered that the company to provide proper training on the use of the equipment.
One source with Eastwood Mall Inc, which owns the mall, has said the two-storey centre underwent a structural study in May and received a passing grade.
Work was being done on the roof before the collapse to prevent leaks, but no "substantial renovations" were underway, the source said.
Work to re-seal the surface of the roof was, however, planned for the near future.
At the local government level, the mall's owner raised concerns more than a year ago about a loss of tenants.
Owner Richard Nazarian appealed to Elliott Lake's economic development advisory committee for help during their May 11, 2011 meeting.
According to the minutes of the meeting obtained from the city's website, Nazarian told the committee the mall "is not at its best."
"The mall is suffering because of a loss of tenants," the minutes state.
The minutes also said Nazarian "is looking for help and is open to suggestions."
Nazarian also discussed his plans for a new parking lot and possibly purchasing land from the city to facilitate it.
"He is looking for ideas/suggestions to turn the 80 room hotel into an income property," the minutes say.
"The chair advised Mr. Nazarian that we are an advisory committee. She then provided him with one of the proposals that was put forward by a member respecting the Algo Mall."
The minutes of the meeting don't say what the proposal was.
The Algo Mall was also discussed by the city's economic development committee a month earlier, according to their minutes. Both committees attended the meeting, where several suggestions and ideas were brought forward. But the discussion was deferred to a future meeting of the advisory committee.
Some residents in Elliott Lake have said that the mall, which was built in the 80s, was in need of repairs.
Nazarian, the mall owner, and his son Levon travelled to the city soon after the incident to offer support to the community.
"We are, and will be co-operating with the authorities to provide them with any helpful resources that are at our disposal," Levon Nazarian said Sunday.
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