High rise crumbling

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo The Mackenzie Place Highrise has been under investigation by the NWT Fire Marshal’s Office for at least the past several months for infractions against the NWT Fire Prevention Act, including unstable balconies and the lack of a working fire alarm.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
The Mackenzie Place Highrise has been under investigation by the NWT Fire Marshal’s Office for at least the past several months for infractions against the NWT Fire Prevention Act, including unstable balconies and the lack of a working fire alarm.

The Mackenzie Place Highrise might be shut down, according to Hay River MLAs Jane Groenewegen and Robert Bouchard, who spoke against the infamous building at a constituency meeting last Tuesday.

“We’ve been in briefings with ministers, the fire chief, the mayor and town council,” said Groenewegen. “This is not news: we’ve been there with these officials, and they are in anguish about what to do with this situation.”

The high rise, as it is referred to locally, is a 17-storey building downtown that houses approximately 150 people. It has a well-earned reputation for requiring frequent police intervention and has been the scene of several violent deaths in recent years.

Last month, The Hub reported that tenants had been advised to not go on their balconies until inspections were complete. A few weeks later, a new notice went up in the lobby telling residents they were “forbidden” to use their balconies until advised otherwise. The Hub also reported that there has been no working fire alarm since water damage caused by a resident broke the electrical panel in February.

“The action plan moving forward is really in the hands of the fire marshal,” said Bouchard.

It is the policy of the NWT Fire Marshal’s Office to not comment on active files and they declined to speak to the matter. This, however, was not what Bouchard had understood to be the plan moving forward.

“We were told the Fire Marshal’s Office would be talking to the media,” he told The Hub Wednesday, the day after the constituency meeting, noting that a gap in information can often create bigger problems than issuing a statement. “My thought is that if they’re not going to comment, someone needs to. I don’t know all the details, but I’ll share what I know. It’s really between the Fire Marshal and the proponent.”

Harry Satdeo, the building’s owner, declined to comment before press time. He did say in a previous interview, however, that a company from Yellowknife would be brought in this fall to inspect the unstable balconies.

“The only lever the government has, like any other business or facility, is to shut it down,” explained Groenewegen at the meeting. “I don’t want to say this, but it’s like a human shield that doesn’t let that happen… it’s been the people living there. Where are all these people going to go?”

Both MLAs agreed there is not enough housing in Hay River – rentals or otherwise – to take in the 150 estimated people living in the high rise. It’s not the municipality’s responsibility to help lodge residents in the event of an evacuation of the building, and Bouchard said the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, under which the NWT Fire Marshal’s Office falls, indicated there would be no dollars available for the situation.

Tenants who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity said they have been dealing with problems in the building since they moved in, including unstable balconies, faulty elevators and pumps breaking, resulting in more than 24 hours with no running water.

Bouchard said there has been talk of a gradual evacuation, with specific floors being relocated in order to renovate them and bring them up to code, but no definite plans have yet to be announced.

“If those infractions are not dealt with, it’s in the hands of the fire marshal to shut it down,” he said. “We don’t know of any impending or set date of when the hammer will come down, but the fire marshal has indicated that the deadlines for fixing those infractions are fast approaching.”

-Sarah Ladik