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Mall architect “uncomfortable” with owner’s parking demand

March 11, 2013, Elliot Lake, Ont. – The man who designed the doomed Algo Centre Mall testified Monday that he didn't like the novel idea of putting a parking deck on the roof.

March 11, 2013
By The Canadian Press

March 11, 2013, Elliot Lake, Ont. – The man who designed the doomed Algo Centre Mall testified Monday that he didn't like the novel idea of putting a parking deck on the roof.

However, James Keywan told the public inquiry into the deadly collapse of the garage that the now dead owner-developer of the mall felt it was the best and cheapest option.

"I'm very uncomfortable with that because there's retail space below," Keywan testified.

"I had never done it. It's not a common thing to do."


During at times testy exchanges with commission lawyer Bruce Carr-Harris, Keywan said it was Nick Hirt, vice-president of mall owner Algocen Realty who made the decision to put parking on the roof, which collapsed last year killing two women.

Keywan, 87, said he went through several options with Hirt – all of which were rejected as impractical or too costly.

It was too difficult to put underground parking in the rock on which the mall was being built in 1979, and there was no nearby land for parking, or space for a garage tower, the inquiry heard.

Keywan said Hirt, who was also an engineer, concluded there was no choice other than rooftop parking.

"I was concerned because I didn't know anything about it and I didn't know anybody who knew anything about it," he said.

Testifying via videolink from Hamilton, Keywan said he suggested to Hirt they should build in such a way as to allow for future construction of a roof over the garage.

Another option, he said he proposed, was to allow for building more retail space above the parking deck.

"He agreed with me on all these points, but the cost would have been too high," Keywan said.

"Well, I'm not involved with the money."

Hirt said he had a firm that had assured him it could waterproof the roof deck and Keywan said he assumed due diligence was done on the waterproofing.

The inquiry has heard the system had never been used on such a structure before, something Keywan said he didn't know.

The architect said he bore no responsibility for choosing the waterproofing, and didn't track the terrible leaking that beset the building – dubbed by some residents as "Algo Falls" – from the

"I didn't design any leaks," Keywan said.

Carr-Harris asked if the now-retired architect would have designed something unsafe just because the owner demanded it.

"Absolutely not, not, not," Keywan responded.

"I can be concerned about any building I designed. If its not taken care of, it will fall down and kill somebody."

Keywan also said he adhered to the Ontario building code as his "bible" in his design work, and believed everything was done to code, but that essentially was his assumption.

Ultimately, he signed off on the project simply on Hirt's say-so, without seeing the building, he said.

Carr-Harris seemed incredulous the architect did not do more to protect himself from any legal ramifications by satisfying himself the work had been done properly.

"It may be lawyer talk, but it's not architect-client talk," Keywan said.

The architect also said he thought it was a "very good-looking building" although he said he never saw it.

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