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Site prep underway for Elliot Lake plaza

Drive by the site of the new Pearson Plaza in Elliot Lake and it’s not uncommon to see citizens parked at the side of the road, cameras out, snapping shots of the work in progress.
Vince Iturregui (left), vice-president and project coordinator at J.I. Enterprises, and Chris Kirby, project manager at Tulloch Engineering, stand before activity at the site of Pearson Plaza, the new shopping complex in Elliot Lake being developed this summer.

Drive by the site of the new Pearson Plaza in Elliot Lake and it’s not uncommon to see citizens parked at the side of the road, cameras out, snapping shots of the work in progress.

Site development for the new shopping mall, which began last October, is generating buzz in the community. As blasting continues and huge machines chew into massive amounts of rock, people are getting anxious to see the project come together.

“Everybody is committed to the same outcome,” said William Elliott, general manager of the Elliot Lake and North Shore Corporation for Business Development (ELNOS), the organization overseeing the development. “There’s a lot more public interest than you would have anywhere else.”

That’s because the 103,358-square-foot shopping plaza, located on a rocky outcrop near the community’s downtown, is the successor to the Algo Centre Mall, which was demolished over the winter following a partial roof collapse last June that killed two women and injured more than 20 others.

More than just a shopping centre, people socialized at the mall, visited its library, walked its aisles for exercise, and accessed essential social services there. Temporary homes have been found for most of the former tenants, but there is still a dearth of shopping and social options that a new mall would fulfill.

The $3.5-million project is being funded in three parts: the provincial and federal governments have provided $1 million each, and the remaining $1.5 million will go through a loan from Infrastructure Ontario at a preferred rate of interest amortized over 25 to 30 years.

The loan would be offset by the sale of the property to the developer, estimated at between $800,000 and $1 million, so the city’s cost would be an estimated $500,000 to $700,000. While the property is sold, the sale won’t close until the site preparation work is completed, which is part of the city’s obligation under the purchase and sale agreement, Elliott said.

After a hiatus due to a long, stubborn winter, crews were back on the site April 8. Vince Iturregui, vice-president and project coordinator for Blind River’s J.I. Enterprises, which was hired as the contractor, said he hoped to have the site ready to turn over to the developer, McCowan & Associates, by the end of May.

“Our contract is basically just to get the site levelled and ready for the next developer to come in and start his project,” he said. “We think we can still do it, but we’re going to be tight.”

Tulloch Engineering out of Thessalon was contracted to do the design work. Project manager Chris Kirby said the firm looked at a number of options before settling on the current plan.

“Essentially, it had to be flat, because the city didn’t want any tiered approach to the plaza,” Kirby said. “They wanted it on a nice flat site for access.”

The original plan called for the moving of 275,000 cubic metres of rock to lower the site to grade, but it was a feat that couldn’t be completed in the timeframe and with the budget outlined in the contract, he said. So, Tulloch moved to its secondary plan: build a retaining wall to raise the site up.

“We adjusted the design to include the retaining wall, raise the site up and get about 2,200 square metres of retaining walls, and that lowered our excavation quantity to about 175,000 cubic metres,” Kirby said.

Despite losing valuable construction time in early spring, Elliott is optimistic that crews can be back on track by July. But it still may result in some delays for tenants hoping to open their doors by December. The current goal is to have the mall closed in by December, when a food store is expected to open its doors, and other tenants will likely be able to open starting in February.

Certain projects, such as paving and roofing, are conditional upon good weather, and if Mother Nature decides to bring an early winter to the city, it could result in further delays.

“There’s some construction stuff that we can’t control and they’re linchpins,” Elliott said. “If they’re not done by the time the snow flies in the fall, then it’s going to put everything back to the spring.”

People might be disappointed that the full plaza won’t be open until July 2014, Elliott said, but after seeing the devastating results of poor workmanship, everyone involved is prepared to take as much time as needed to get a good quality product.

“Everybody’s anxious, but nobody wants it rushed,” Elliott added. “Everybody wants it done right, 100 per cent guaranteed—no questions, no shortcuts—because we’ve seen proof here of what happens when you don’t do that.”