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Residents forced out of unsafe Edmonton condo building face uncertainty, financial strain

"Something could have catastrophically failed," an engineer told owners and tenants of Castledowns Pointe at an emergency meeting this week. "And that's devastating."

'Thank God for the fire,' engineer tells owners, tenants of Castledowns Pointe

An aerial shot of a large condo building. A white tarp covers one wing of the property.

Residents of a northwest Edmonton condo building deemed at risk of collapse are demanding answers about how construction flaws went undetected for decades — and who can be held accountable.

An evacuation order was issued this week at Castledowns Pointe at 12618 152nd Ave. after engineers investigating a March 2023 fire determined the entire four-storey structure lacked structural integrity.

On Wednesday night, owners of the building's 83 units attended an emergency meeting with property management and the engineers whose report triggered the evacuation.

"Thank God for the fire," engineer Jamie Murphy told owners during a presentation of his findings.

"As much as it was disruptive to you, and it's not what we want to see. It could have been worse," he said. "You could have [gone] on and something could have catastrophically failed. And that's devastating."

'Just shocked'

As images of the structural flaws discovered inside the building were projected across the room, owners heard the details of why their homes are unsafe. Many asked questions about who was involved in construction and how the structural flaws were overlooked.

Castledowns Pointe was built in 1999. Lisa Brown, who has owned a unit in the building since 2008, said she can't fathom how the design flaws went unnoticed through the construction process.

Near cracks that had formed in the hall outside her unit, engineers opened up the drywall to discover bowing trusses and flawed framing.

"I was just shocked to see what was behind the wall because there is no explanation, there is no craftsmanship," Brown said.

"There is literally nothing that can explain what was found in the framing, which then brings up why did the City of Edmonton pass this? Because they had to have passed this."

In a statement to CBC, a city spokesperson said "no concerns were noted" during the final inspection on the building in November 2000.

Castledowns Pointe's property manager, Simco Management, said the condo board has retained legal counsel and is exploring litigation against the parties involved in the construction process.

Brown said she expects she and other owners will have little legal recourse. She fears for the financial hardships ahead, with condo fees and mortgage payments still due.

"Sometimes having more information is hard because you know what's going to come, and the hardship that's going to come with it," she said.

"If we have to rebuild this building, and it would cost millions of dollars, we are on the hook.

"We are not people of a lot of means, so there are going to be a lot of people who are going to suffer with this."

Owners and tenants received notice Sept. 1 that their homes were at risk of collapse. The condo board urged residents to pack a bag and vacate the building immediately. A formal evacuation order from the city followed on Tuesday.

Structural engineering firm Read Jones Christoffersen Ltd. determined the building's construction did not match the original architectural and structural designs — and that it is under-designed to carry the structural load.

The firm's investigation discovered incomplete framing that was beginning to twist and crack, as well as bowing walls, incomplete foundations and dangerously weak trusses inside the walls.

Murphy, the engineer who spoke at Wednesday's meeting, said making the building safe will be difficult and costly as each of the problem spots would need to be exposed before repairs could be made.

The City of Edmonton said a building permit for the project was issued in August 1999.

The city declined to provide CBC a copy of the inspection report but detailed how the process usually works.

Spokesperson Mary-Ann Thurber said the building code required the involvement of professional architects and engineers who were responsible for design and construction.

"The city does not specifically or necessarily inspect the structural components of large buildings which employ professional involvement," she said.

"Passing the final building/occupancy inspection marks the end of the building safety codes process."

Thurber said that for certain buildings, follow-up inspections may be carried out by fire safety code inspectors, or be done if a building falls into disrepair.

Robert Noce, an Edmonton-based lawyer who specializes in condominiums, said owners will need to decide if the building is worth saving, and if they want to pursue what would likely be a costly, protracted legal battle.

"This is an absolutely tragic situation," Noce said Thursday.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered in terms of a budget, timing and whether or not the corporation even has a chance of winning and being successful in getting a judgment."

Hugh Willis, a lawyer with Willis Law hired by the condo corporation, said all legal options are being explored as his firm begins to investigate the construction process in detail.

Cases like this are incredibly challenging to litigate, especially two decades after construction, he said. They will need to identify every party involved in the project and determine where critical safeguards in the inspection process may have failed.

But for now the focus is on ensuring that displaced owners can retrieve their belongings and be better prepared for the hard decisions ahead, he said.

"The personal toll this takes on the individuals is significant," Willis said.

"Whenever we have a catastrophe, getting the group together in a room in the immediate aftermath is absolutely critical. There's so many questions and not a lot of answers."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon

Reporter

Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

    With files from Mrinali Anchan

    *****
    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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