A small section of the parking garage at the Rainbow Centre has been closed so the roof can be re-enforced ahead of planned renovations this summer.
Joe Zito, the mall's vice-president of operations and leasing, said the work is part of a five-year, $10-million plan to re-enforce sections of the garage, following recommendations by their structural engineers. The current work has been been planned since November, he said, but the renovations have been going on for a few years.
“Last year we did the same thing, we did another section in 2012, and a big, big section in 2011,” Zito said. “It didn't generate any interest in 2011, but now, after Elliot Lake, you do any work on a parking garage, there's lots and lots of interest.”
The 2012 tragedy in Elliot Lake — in which a section of the Algo Centre Mall roof collapsed, killing two people — has heightened public awareness about the safety of malls with parking garages. In January, a parking garage on Cedar Street closed over structural concerns.
But Zito said there are no such concerns at Rainbow, which was built about 40 years ago. About 10 per cent of the mall's 1,000 parking spaces are affected by the work. The floor directly below the rooftop parking area is being re-enforced with wooden beams to allow renovations to proceed on the floor above.
“Each year, we schedule maintenance of the parking garage – we spend about a million dollars a year on it,” he said. “As a precautionary measure, we shored it up from below because there will be work taking place above. You can't have people working below while you have people parking above.
“As we complete the shoring, we'll take the fencing down.”
Bruce Skeaff, media relations co-ordinator for the Ministry of Labour, confirmed that the mall, the city and the ministry are all monitoring the project, which he said has been going on for years.
“There's nothing really new here – it's rehab work that's been going on for some time,” Skeaff said. “We're monitoring it. The owners of the mall have engineers that are looking after the whole thing.”
And Guido Mazza, director of building services for Greater Sudbury, said the public should be reassured the proper steps are being taken to ensure public safety. He said the mall's owners, Vista Hospitality, has made a substantial investment in the rehabilitation work.
“We are working with the ministry, and the structural engineers at the mall in evaluating the structure,” Mazza said. “What started this concern was the infiltration of water into certain areas of the mall.”
Those issues have largely been addressed, he said, while work is continuing on other parts of the parking structure.
“There are some wood timber structures there now in advance of a more permanent solution, as part of an ongoing maintenance program,” Mazza said. “The system is working for the benefit of public safety.”
Zito said most of the garage should re-open this week, although a small area will stay closed until the permanent work is complete in a few months.
“It's not that it's going to collapse, which is the first thing people think.”
“As long as we've got it shored from the bottom, we can work on the top, without having to close it off.”
It will take about six months to complete. He said they're doing work on the structure in sections to minimize disruption to tenants, shoppers and the downtown. Many people who work downtown have parking spots at Rainbow, he said.
“We have 25 per cent of all downtown parking in our mall.”