More than five months after a fire damaged a condominium building in northwest Edmonton, an investigation by an engineering firm has revealed the building was not constructed properly to begin with and could collapse at any moment — so residents are being urged to leave immediately.
The fire caused by an unknown electrical malfunction took six-and-a-half hours to extinguish and resulted in more than $8-million in damages, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said.
In the aftermath, structural engineers from Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. (RJC) were hired to inspect the fire-damaged portion of the building, a letter to residents from property manager Simco Management explained (scroll down to read the full letter.)
“During their May 2023 review, RJC discovered that the actual construction of the fire-damaged portion of the building was not the same as the engineered drawings on file, and that the as-built conditions were under-designed to carry the structural load of the building,” the Sept. 1 letter stated.
That led to questions about whether the non-fire damaged parts of the building also had the same issues and a deeper investigation was launched in mid-August, after an initial report was received from RJC.
The property manager said that investigation included opening up areas of drywall to get a deeper look at the framing and construction.
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The engineers released a follow-up report on Aug. 30, which revealed troubling news about state of the building.
The building manager summarized the grim findings in its letter to residents.
“The report of the structural engineers advises that under certain conditions, all or a portion of the building could fail structurally (i.e. collapse),” the management company said, adding it had an ethical obligation to share the findings with the City of Edmonton, which it said it did on Aug. 31.
Simco said it has been in touch with the city and is waiting on an official response — and while no formal order has been issued by the municipality, “it is our expectation that an evacuation order will be issued.”
In the meantime, residents were told over the long weekend they should not wait.
“It is the recommendation of RJC that due to the potential life safety issue, that the remaining residents vacate the building as soon as possible.”
Kelly-Anne Durand has owned a unit in the building for 15 years — she initially bought it for her son but now lives in it herself.
She said the building has also suffered water damage several times in the past, to the point all the pipes in the building were ripped out and replaced.
“For my suite alone, they’ve had to tear it apart and repair it three times because of floods,” she said, adding her floors were replaced during that process — but more recently, she noticed the boards have been lifting.
“They had all these nice floors in and I have, literally, stickers on my floors because they’re all lifting and everything’s moving. It’s a lot recently and was kind of scary — but I never thought it was going to be this scary,” Durand said.
Durand received her copy of the letter from the management company on Saturday, informing her of structural issues she said she suspected existed.
“They told us we had to be out immediately. To pack a bag and leave and not wait until there’s more information, that they are worried about the building collapsing,” she said.
“It’s terrifying what we’ve been living in and it’s (only) what they’ve seen,” Durand said, adding she fears there could be even more extensive water damage issues not yet discovered.
“It’s scary and devastating.”
Durand added because the City of Edmonton has not yet ordered an official evacuation, she and other residents can’t access help from the Red Cross.
She said she also couldn’t find vacant hotels. She has insurance and isn’t too worried about herself — but she said her roommates are low-income and do not have coverage.
“I’m pretty simple,” she said. “I can make do, I’ll sleep on people’s couches but they’re younger and they’re terrified. What’s what’s going to happen?”
Durand said she initially took essentials and left. On Monday, she returned to start packing up her belongings in preparation of a longer absence.
“We’re not going to move anything because they’re worried about us moving furniture — it causing some sort of weird stress, everyone doing everything at once and then all of a sudden we have a collapse, right?” Durand said.
Durand estimates she’s spent over $50,000 on repairs at her condo and doesn’t expect to recoup her investment.
She worries the property is now uninsurable, or will take years and countless dollars to fix — and even then, she fears no one who knows the history will want to buy a unit at Castledowns Pointe.
“Like what — they’re going to put a few beams in and fix it? This whole place has to be gutted,” she alleged.
“To be honest, I would like this building just to be torn right down, to lose the whole building. It’s been a nightmare and I think there’s going to be continuous things that’s going to keep happening.”
Durand said the next steps are not yet clear and she fears she’ll end up paying for a home she can never live in again.
“I would like to walk away — even losing all the money I did. I don’t care. If I could walk away, where I don’t have a mortgage anymore, that would be fine.”
Global News reached out to Simco Management and Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. for more information but as of publishing, had not heard back.
Global News has been unable to confirm what company or companies originally constructed the condo building.
A request for more information about the March 2023 fire was also sent to Edmonton Fire Rescue Services. This story will be updated when a response is received.