Days after residents of a condominium building in northwest Edmonton were told by their management company to flee the building because it was not safe, the City of Edmonton is officially ordering everyone out.
Last week, a letter from property manager Simco Management was sent to residents of the Castledowns Pointe condo building (12618 152 Ave.), located in the Baranow neighbourhood in the Castle Downs area.
It stated an investigation by an engineering firm has revealed the building was not constructed properly two decades ago and could collapse at any moment – so residents were being urged to leave immediately.
Engineers from Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. (RJC) were hired to inspect part of the property damaged by a fire on March 12.
During their review in May, the structural engineers from RJC discovered 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,” according to a Sept. 1 letter to residents.
That led to questions about whether the rest of the building was not built properly.
A more fulsome investigation was launched in mid-August, when areas of drywall were opened up to get a deeper look at the framing and construction.
The engineers released two follow-up reports on Aug. 18 and Aug. 30, which revealed troubling news about state of the building.
Property was never built to meet code: Engineering report
The engineering reports said there appear to have been critical discrepancies, oversight and errors in the original architectural and structural drawing “that were not coordinated during the design stage or noticed during the construction and review of shop drawing.”
The engineers identified three main issues in the unoccupied, fire-damaged areas that might also be present in the occupied areas:
- Missing blocking at the ends of the trusses that has led to observed crushing failure of many of the second floor truss bottom chords at the corridor walls.
- Main and second floor corridor interior load-bearing walls constructed using 2 x 4 studs instead of 2 x 6 studs specified on the original structural drawings.
- Partially buried, main floor exterior walls that are bowing inward due to the earth pressure against them.
During inspections in late August, the engineers noticed extensive drywall cracking in some areas.
“This ceiling cracking is most prominent and extensive on the first floor (i.e., at the underside of the second floor framing). There is similar, if slightly less extensive cracking, in the second floor corridors, and it is reduced further yet, but still visible in the third floor corridor. (The ceiling framing in the fourth floor corridor is comprised of the roof trusses, which is different from the floors below, and there was no cracking observed.),” an Aug. 30 engineering report stated.
Based on that cracking and analysis of areas of highest stress, the engineers selected a couple areas each on the first and second floor to open up the walls and inspect the structure.
The engineers uncovered issues with the trusses.
The report stated: “At the main floor, outside suite 115, the exposed bottom chord truss ends are showing similar crushing, twisting, and displacement (Photos 2 through 4) that has been observed in the unoccupied area. There is no vertical blocking present at the ends of these exposed trusses, and the wall studs in this area were observed to be staggered 2 x 4 studs at 12″ on centre similar to typical framing observed in the unoccupied area.”
The engineer report said there were significant and unacceptable overstresses on the structure systematically throughout the building.
“Consequently, the building does not meet the life-safety requirements of the building code for residential occupancy,” it said, noting not only is the condo building not up to present day standards — it did not meet the building code in effect at the time of original design in 1999.
It was at that point engineers recommended Castledowns Pointe be evacuated without delay until the full scope of the repairs and the required remedial work could be determined.
Engineers and the condo board met on Aug. 30, and the City of Edmonton was also notified of the grim findings.
Two days later at the start of the long weekend, Simco issued the letter urging people to get out while waiting for the city to issue an official notice.
Frustrated residents left with many questions, few answers
Residents were told to pack a suitcase with the necessities and leave with their pets, but to leave furniture and other big possessions behind, for fear a sudden weight shift from a mass moveout could put the building at greater risk of collapse.
Some residents followed the rules, but others went ahead and packed everything up.
“You can’t you can’t not have your belongings. You can’t leave your whole life behind,” said one resident who Global News has agreed to keep anonymous because they fear safety repercussions for breaking the rules and moving out. They are now in a temporary home while they search for a new place to live.
They said they were devastated and angry when they learned what was going on, and seeing the extent of the problems is terrifying.
“You don’t know how long this has been an issue. You don’t know when the building is going to collapse. You don’t know if it’s been an issue for five years, ten years, ten months, ten days,” they said.
Part of the engineering report noted 2x4s were used in place of larger, more sturdy pieces of wood.
“Why was it so cheaply built?” the resident wondered.
“You use 2x4s instead of 2x6s. You know, back when the building was built, those couple dollars saved it. But right now, how many lives has it displace?”
The official city notice to evacuate came Tuesday. The city said it would be posting an order to vacate and further documentation would be delivered to building ownership by the end of Wednesday.
Simco Management owner Ray Pratt said they are also planning to hold an emergency meeting with the building’s 83 owners and the engineers on Wednesday.
Simco is not the original management company for the property — it was previously looked after by KDM Management.
When asked on Tuesday, neither management company knew which developer or construction company built the building. None of the residents Global News has spoken with knew who built the property either.
Global News asked the City of Edmonton who build Castledowns Pointe and was told the city is “not in a position to provide the builder’s name as yet.”
Global News has been unable to confirm what developer or construction company originally built Castledowns Pointe.
The city said once an order to vacate is issued, the building code requires owner(s) and their building manager to ensure the order is followed until all building reviews and structural engineering assessments can be completed, and sufficient temporary and/or permanent remedial action has been taken that makes the units safe for occupancy again.
The city said it’d be monitoring the situation and if the condo board and managers don’t deal with the problems, the municipality has the power to force remedial action to be taken to ensure public safety.
Global News reached out Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. on Monday and Tuesday for more information but as of publishing, had not received a response.
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