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'Tear it down': Langford building empties, but questions about safety, permits remain

The City of Langford said Centurion Properties was notified April 17 that the building had again failed a structural inspection.

It is one of Langford’s tallest buildings and stands out with its gleaming glass walls and modern design.

But residents of Ridgeview Place — formerly Danbrook One — in the downtown core were fleeing the structure with frustration and anger Tuesday after the building’s owner issued an emergency evacuation, deeming the 11-storey, 90-unit building unsafe to live in due to structural issues.

“I will never live here again,” said Nicole Tremblay, who shared an apartment with two other health-care workers and was scrambling to move. “They should tear it down.”

She was packing a small Toyota with laundry baskets full of belongings and was given the day off from working with disabled kids. She’s hoping she and her roommates can bunk at her father’s place until they can find somewhere new to live.

Residents were using fold-up wagons to bring down their food and there was a steady procession of cube vans hauling furniture, shelving and boxes. 

It’s the second time in four years the rental tower has been flagged as unsafe by Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C., and evacuated over safety concerns. Design and structural flaws were discovered in 2019 just months after the building was finished and occupied. It was later sold to Toronto-based Centurion Properties, which said it had fixed the problems. The City of Langford got a stamp of approval from two engineers that it was safe, so an occupancy permit was re-issued a year ago.

On April 17, the city said, Centurion was notified the building had again failed a structural inspection. Centurion said although the provincial engineers association did not recommend an evacuation, the company retained an independent engineer who identified “serious safety concerns,” triggering the call for a second evacuation.

Residents of the building said there has been no word from the company on what, specifically, is wrong with the building, if the flaws can be repaired or whether there’s a timeline for moving back in.

A woman with five children and a dog living in a three-bedroom suite and paying $2,995 a month said Tuesday she’s “very frustrated.” She was getting help from a friend who was helping her move and giving her a place to stay.

Centurion told residents to contact their tenant insurance provider, saying some expenses for temporary accommodation and other expenses could be covered by resident policies. However, several tenants said Tuesday they were getting denied because of the building’s history. 

Centurion is also offering each unit $1,000 “as a gesture of compassionate assistance”, reimbursing rent paid over the past five days and any prepaid rents, and refunding all damage and pet deposits.

The company said it will also assist residents to find places in other buildings it owns in Langford and Victoria, depending on availability, and provided a list of hotels.

Moving trucks were made available on Monday and Tuesday for light items only. A table was set up in the lobby for information and two security officers were posted at the door on Tuesday.

The city’s emergency services department opened Gordon United Church on Goldstream Avenue and set up 30 cots for displaced residents, though no one used the service Monday night.

None of the offerings from Centurion sat well with residents who were hustling their belongings along sidewalks and waiting for moving vans on Tuesday.

“I’ve never been this upset,” said senior Dennis MacDonald, who moved into Ridgeview with his daughter and seven-year-old grandson last spring, paying $3,400 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

He was aware of the history of the building, but was assured the building was safe after repairs.

“The woman who was the manager here — she’s since vanished — assured us this is probably now the safest building in Canada after all the work that’s been done on it,” he said, noting that the letter give to residents says one of the potential risks is death.

City doesn’t know details of problems

Langford Mayor Scott Goodmanson said Tuesday the city and Centurion received a letter April 17 from Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. regarding a second investigation into the structural engineer of record for the remediation work undertaken by Centurion.

It provided details of several potential structural design issues that may not have been addressed by the original remediation, saying EGBC “has received no evidence that a comprehensive review of the structural design of the building, or of the as-built structure of the building, was ever conducted for the remediation.”

It took a week for Centurion to complete an independent review, and on Monday it terminated rental contracts with residents and ordered an evacuation as the city pulled the occupancy permit.

Goodmanson said the city doesn’t know exactly what is making the building unsafe.

“Centurion had two structural engineers and a concrete specialist come in on the weekend doing a visual inspection of the building and that’s as far as it’s gone,” Goodmanson said. “The visual inspection was enough for them to say you should vacate the building.”

Asked if Langford has professional engineers to review drawings when they are submitted for approval, Goodmanson said that isn’t the case. Under Langford’s legal regulatory framework, which is the same for most municipalities in B.C., city staff rely upon the project engineer’s professional stamp of approval, which affirms that their engineering designs abide by the requirements under the Professional Governance Act and the B.C. Building Code.

Former Langford mayor Stew Young, whose council approved the building’s occupancy permit a year ago, said council took the stamp of approval of the building’s engineer and an independent engineer that the proper fixes were made on the building.

“That’s the procedure and that’s how it’s done,” Young said. “The city and city staff did nothing wrong here and we asked for a second independent engineer, who signed off on it.”

Young said he feels the company and the city should be more up front about what’s wrong with the building and when repairs can be made, so residents of the building can stay in Langford.

Goodmanson said he could not say who’s accountable for the mess. “Certainly there are going to be lots of lawyers involved coming up and it would inappropriate to say who’s at fault. [Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C.] is the one leading the investigation and anything to do with [fault] they would have to answer.”

In a statement, the City of Langford said it is the obligation of the building owner and structural engineer of record to ensure that authenticated engineering designs meet the standards of Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. and the B.C. Building Code. This Professional Assurance Model is one that all municipalities in British Columbia rely upon, the city said.

“This is the process that any building, any civil project goes through, whether it’s a big dam or three-storey building,” Goodmanson said.

“We’re at the very beginning of this.”

Goodmanson said residents should expect that they’re moving out “for an extended period.”

Before an occupancy permit is issued, he said, there will have to be a “comprehensive, independent structural review … That’s a long-term review.”

Although the city isn’t providing financial support to tenants as it did in 2019, Goodmanson said it is open to listening to residents concerns over possible insurance snags and other expenses they will incur.

“I can’t imagine what they’re going through. I absolutely feel for them,” he said. “You’re not going to be abandoned. This city will be here for you. If there’s something slipping through, we’ll work with Centurion to make sure people aren’t left out.”

Scope of previous work not shared

After Centurion acquired the building and received its occupancy permit last spring, it did not provide details about what work had been done. However, in a statement to the Times Colonist last March, the company said a final inspection by a team of engineers and architects involved in the project was being conducted to confirm that the structural flaws had been rectified.

Centurion at the time said the upgrades were designed to “ensure the property will be able to withstand seismic ­activity in accordance with current best practices and standards in ­seismology and structural engineering.”

Centurion claimed it was unaware of the building’s dangerous state when it acquired Danbrook One and launched a lawsuit in July 2021 against the seller, builder, structural engineer and City of Langford for what it claims was negligence causing dangerous defects in the building.

Months before Centurion bought the building, a structural engineer not involved in the project raised concerns related to its seismic and structural integrity in a complaint to Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C., which regulates and governs the professions under the authority of the Professional Governance Act.

Centurion’s claim said the building’s problems included deficiencies in the foundation and structure.

The engineering firm Sorensen Trilogy Engineering Ltd. and its lead structural engineer on the project, Brian McClure, were named in the suit, along with the builder, Langford-based DB Services; the seller, Loco Investments; Margaret McKay, the director of both DB Services and Loco; and the City of Langford.

An investigation by Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. last year found McClure was not qualified to carry out structural engineering services for the building and “did not make even the minimum effort to rectify his shortcomings” before beginning work on the building.

In another consent order issued by the provincial body at the end of 2022, engineer Theodore Sorensen admitted he demonstrated unprofessional conduct in relation to a series of serious issues in the building’s structural design of the building’s core and seismic elements. The regulator cancelled the registration of Sorensen, prohibiting him from working as an engineer.

Heidi Yang, CEO of Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C., said the public must feel confident that their homes are being designed to rigorous standards, “and this case was a clear breach of that trust. Now both these individuals are prohibited from working as professional engineers in British Columbia.”

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