Officials in the northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake downplayed the impact of a partial roof collapse at a public building, saying Friday that the incident was much less serious than a similar, deadly occurrence that made national headlines six years ago.
The Thursday night collapse at a community theatre caused major damage but only one minor injury, the city’s chief administrative officer said.
Daniel Gagnon said the collapse at the Lester B Pearson Civic Centre stands in marked contrast to the June 2012 cave-in of the roof at the Algo Centre mall, which killed two women and touched off a public inquiry into the factors behind it.
Gagnon said the latest incident was likely caused as a result of accumulated ice and snow on the roof of the theatre.
“When you have ‘roof collapse’ and ‘Elliot Lake’ in the same sentence you’re going to draw the parallel, but it’s vastly different in this case,” Gagnon said in a telephone interview. ” It was snow. There was no injuries. It’s a municipal building, not a private building.”
Gagnon said only five or six people were inside the theatre when the roof began to cave in shortly after 6:30 p.m.. Everyone managed to get out, with only one person sustaining minor injuries, he said.
The damage to the building, however, is severe. Gagnon said city officials are still determining the extent, but said images he’s seen show a hole in the roof and chunks of debris and broken water pipes inside the theatre.
He said the city has opted to close a handful of public buildings, including the Centennial Arena and the municipal pool, in order to take the safety precaution of clearing snow off their roofs. That step, he said, will allow the community to resume business as usual while the Civic Centre is being repaired.
“Once we’re comfortable that our other municipal facilities are not at risk of anything similar, we’ll be able to look in more detail at relocating special events and what not,” he said.
The scene of the present-day roof collapse was once the venue for emotionally charged community meetings in the wake of the previous incident that shook the town and resulted in a withering public inquiry.
It was on a Saturday afternoon in June 2012 that the Algo mall’s rooftop parking deck, weakened by decades of rust-causing water and salt penetration, crashed down.
Killed in the collapse were Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and Lucie Aylwin, 37. Nineteen others were injured.
The subsequent inquiry led by Paul Belanger, heard how decades of incompetence, neglect, greed and dishonesty by a succession of owners, engineers and municipal officials allowed the building to rust to the point of collapse despite dozens of official inspections.
“Although it was rust that defeated the structure of the Algo mall, the real story behind the collapse is one of human, not material, failures,” Belanger wrote in his report.
Belanger concluded that the mall was “doomed to early failure” while still in its planning stages in the 1970’s. He criticized the decision to put parking on the roof, as well as to use a roof design featuring an untested combination of materials.
Belanger noted that the mall seldom lacked for professional oversight from architects and engineers, who racked up some 30 visits, inspections and reports over its 33-year life. However, the scrutiny never translated into a proper fix for the leaks that prompted some to dub the centre the “Algo Falls.”
He was particularly critical of Robert (Bob) Wood, the engineer who signed off on the health of the mall just weeks before it collapsed. Wood was acquitted of criminal negligence in 2017 but had admitted to chancing his final inspection report.
Belanger also concluded the mall’s various owners hid the problems, then tried to sell their way out of them when patchwork fixes didn’t work. Profit considerations trumped all other concerns, Belanger said.