Shreya Nandy Mitra’s morning walk to work Wednesday started like any other. But by the time she turned onto Yellowknife’s 50 Street, where she works, her commute quickly turned from routine to: are my co-workers okay?
“It immediately got me thinking if everyone was safe,” Mitra told Yellowknifer.
Mitra works at EPR Yellowknife Accounting Professional Corporation, a business housed in the building next to the Bellanca Building – a 10-storey, 5,575 sq.-metre office tower.
As Mitra approached her building, she came across a crumpled heap of twisted steel siding, piled in a parking lot that sits between her work and the Bellanca Building.
Only hours before – just after 7 a.m. and just before the morning rush – a powerful windstorm stripped large swathes of steel siding from one side of the Bellanca Building, sending debris falling down to the parking lot below.
No one was injured, and no cars were parked in the affected lot when the siding came crashing down.
The Bellanca, the fourth tallest tower in Yellowknife, has remained vacant since 2012.
Yellowknife Municipal Enforcement Division arrived at the scene just before 9 a.m. and closed traffic along 50 Street, with yellow tape cordoning off the entire area.
Contractors working alongside the building’s property managers, McCOR Management, worked Wednesday afternoon to clear away fallen debris. A lift was used to strip away loose siding affected by high winds.
Once at work, Mitra said she and her colleagues heard a loud sound.
“We looked outside the window to see that a piece of Styrofoam had hit our building and fallen to the ground,” said Mitra.
Mitra walks to work and doesn’t park in the affected lot, and neither do her colleagues, but she said one of her coworkers was forced to find another parking spot after traffic was cordoned off.
On the scene Wednesday, Yellowknifer caught up with area professional who walks through the lot everyday on his way to work – except on Wednesday.
The man, who didn’t wish to be identified, said he was about to walk through the parking lot – a busy thoroughfare for workers, especially during the lunch hour – when he saw the crumpled mess blocking his path. It caused a detour and some inconvenience, but the man was more concerned about public safety.
The winds ripping siding from the building around 7 a.m., the man questioned why the dangerous area – and the still fluid situation – wasn’t cordoned off or controlled until nearly two hours later, when MED officers began taping off the area.
Pointing to one steel panel that hung precariously on the building, the man called the piece a dangerous “steel Frisbee” waiting to be flung to the streets below.
Another Yellowknifer who works nearby the building took to Instagram to recount his own close call.
“Pretty happy I was late for work this morning! It was a bit windy,” he wrote.
But McCOR property manger Darin Benoit says all risks are being assessed as the clean-up continues.
“We’ve hired contractors and consultants to assess the situation … Our first priority is to create zero risk – basically no further risk to anybody walking through and underneath,” said Benoit.
He said the Bellanca Building’s cladding was “probably” last inspected in 2012, when the building was sold. He said the evaluations are generally visually-based.
On whether he’s concerned about the quality and safety of the siding on the building’s other three sides, Benoit said “we’re looking into it, but, no, at this point no risk, but certainly we’re going to address it.”
“We’re really surprised this happened to be honest,” said Benoit.
Benoit aims to have the rubble cleared from the parking lot by today, but pedestrians and drivers likely won’t be able to enter the area until Monday, he said.
Benoit said it was “very, very lucky,” that no personal injuries or damages occurred.
In 2006, Williams Engineering Canada was hired to assess the condition of the Bellanca’s envelope.
The owner was concerned about reports of drafty work spaces, ice build-up on the cladding exterior and water penetration during rainfall, states the engineering company’s website. The existing cladding and insulation were removed and new spray-in foam insulation was added, along with new sheathing, rigid insulation, a drainage plan and new cladding, states the website.
While fierce winds exposed the Bellanca Building’s yellow insulation, it still wasn’t enough to reveal a an enduring message from avid sports fans.
In 2007, renovations on the building uncovered a three-storey sign donning the words, “Go Esks! Cup ’73 West – Luv them Esks.” The mysterious markings were made in 1973 in a show of support from construction workers cheering on the Grey Cup-bound Edmonton Eskimos.