Replacing the collapsed Algo Centre Mall

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New 90,000 sq. ft. Elliott Lake Mall to provide essential community services following construction after challenging site preparation

Northern Ontario Construction Report special feature

Two years after the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall, a new 90,000 sq. ft. Elliott Lake Mall is being constructed. The mall, which is expected to open late this year, will bring a sense of normalcy and restore access to basic community services.

ELNOS Corporation for Business Development has taken on the project management role for site development and selection of a developer on behalf of the city. The corporation’s objective is to stimulate economic growth within the ELNOS Region, including Elliot Lake, Blind River, Spanish, North Shore and the Serpent River First Nation.

ELNOS general manager William Elliott says after the collapse in 2012, community leaders recognized rebuilding the city’s retail component had to be a priority. “Normally a project like this would become part of a community’s development plan and they would work at it over a period of years,” he said. “In this case the need was immediate and it was not within the city’s scope to manage the work.”

A harsh winter and difficult working environment delayed the initial site work. “Essentially preparing the site meant taking an area of trees and mountain and making a space that is flat and open for construction,” he said.

The complex $3.7 million site preparation contract, awarded to JI Enterprises, has been achieved through $1 million in funding from the provincial government, $1 million from the federal government through FedNor, $1 million from the developer and an additional $700,000 from the city.

“Part of the (site preparation) tender required a plan for the trees removed,” said Elliott. “It’s an issue people are sensitive to and we wanted to make sure there was an awareness and an ability to answer the question. We were confident JI would do it right.”

JI Enterprises vice-president Vince Iturregui says clearing of the six acre site, 4.5 acres of which had been forested, was a large part of the site prep. “Our plan for the trees included selling any marketable timber and chipping the remaining which was used at the ski hill before the snow fell to level rough areas prior.”

JI’s crews of 15 to 20 staff also had to dig through the organics to expose rock for blasting and to find bearing rock for later construction phases. “There was an old ravine on the site that created some challenges,” Iturregui said.

Other challenges included scheduling and a harsh winter. The original schedule called for the preparation to be completed in four months, but the work stretched to nine months.

“You’ve got steel tracked excavators and drills working on steep bedrock so you add snow to the mix and you have to take things slowly to be safe, take the extra effort to plow and sand the area so the crew and equipment can find traction… It slows things down.”

JI also installed a quarter mile long retaining wall. Rising 30 ft. at its highest point, the wall is constructed of 3 ft. high by 8 ft. long precast concrete hollow blocks which were filled with stone once they were positioned. “The blocks are each between 5,000 and 6,000 lbs and are attached to the bank with tie backs as needed.”

Though JI is experienced both with excavation, aggregate supply and dam work, Iturregui says this was the largest wall of this type the company has constructed. He says this combination of skills, along with the decision of the owner to select the alternate wall systems from the bid, secured the contract for the Blind River-based company.

Elliott says city administration and leadership from the greater community pulled together to assess a potential site and then worked with an engineering company to issue the site development tender.

The next stage required decisions about what the community wants and needs. “Elliot Lake has the second oldest population in Canada so the mall needed to be all one level,” he said. “We recognize the social aspect of a mall in a community this size is important so areas like the food court and other gathering and sitting areas had to be incorporated.”

To facilitate the sprawling layout, an adjacent property had to be acquired.

Barrie-based McCowan and Associates has been selected as the project’s developer. “We liked that they had property in other secondary communities and they brought together a good team including the architect and builder side, and on the real estate and leasing side,” Elliott said.

Elliott says as of July the site plan had been signed off, permits had been issued, final site work is ongoing and construction tenders are set to be awarded.

He said the project has been divided into two parcels, one for a 26,000 sq. ft. free-standing Sobey’s and another for the remainder of the mall, although he says it is feasible that both will be awarded to the same contractor.

Elliott says construction in small northern locations almost always presents challenges, including distance, time and the cost required to get materials and equipment on site. These are elements potential bidders will have to consider.

The L-shaped mall will use native stone to blend into the aesthetics of the community. Elliott says the intent has been to avoid an institutional or box-like structure. “The public library will be located at the corner of the L and will feature three-sided window views overlooking the ski hill and Horn Lake. It will be open and inviting and beautiful.”

Though many of the mall’s eventual tenants have not yet been confirmed, Elliott says the local health unit will be situated in the building. While the project evolves and takes shape, he says the community is watching closely.

“Every time equipment arrives on site or signage goes up, people show up to see. People are anxious to have the mall back so things can return to normal – both for shopping and the social aspects inherent in a small community.”

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