Harry Satdeo, the owner of the Mackenzie Place highrise, stands in the kitchen of a 15th-floor apartment in July. The building has been closed since a fire in March of last year.
NNSL file photo

The owner of the Mackenzie Place highrise is hopeful a new move by the GNWT might mean that the building – closed to tenants since a fire in March of last year – could soon be reopened for occupancy.

Harry Satdeo said he is “very optimistic” that the office of the chief public health officer (CPHO) has hired a third party to review reports on the building submitted by experts on behalf of Satdeo Inc.

“It sounds like the Department of Health and Social Services is going to make an effort to co-operate and have some work done,” Satdeo told The Hub on Oct. 31. “They are finally looking at a third party to go and do some investigative work in the building.”

The building owner is confident a third party will be satisfied with the repair work that’s been done so far.

“I’m hoping to have the place reopened in a couple of months, but that’s been my hope all along,” he said.

As he understands it, the third party will evaluate the reports and make recommendations as to what more has to be done, or if everything is done.

The matter arose in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 30.

“The CPHO has been working diligently with the owner this month to understand the level of contamination and remediation that has taken place and what needs to take place in the future,” said Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green. “The most recent development is that the CPHO has hired a consultant to verify and augment the reports that she has received from the contractor for the owner, and this work will be done on an expedited timeframe.”

The minister added the chief public health officer is well aware of the value of the building in a situation where housing is in very short supply.

Green noted a public health order has closed the building based on the risk of exposure to asbestos and mould, among other things.

Due to the fire on the 11th floor, sections of the 16-storey building suffered from both fire and water damage.

About 125 people were displaced by the fire.

Satdeo said about 70 of the 122 apartments are now ready for occupancy.

The status of the highrise was raised in the Legislative Assembly by Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson, who called the hiring of a consultant encouraging.

The MLA noted the importance of the building to addressing a housing crisis in Hay River.

“It is obvious that the NWT Housing Corporation has no plans to construct any significant number of public housing units in Hay River anytime soon,” said Simpson. “Therefore, reopening of the highrise is important.”

The MLA also wondered whether the “integrity” of the building may be compromised due to the absence of heat and a possibility that electricity may be cut, which he noted would eliminate an aircraft warning beacon atop the structure.

Simpson asked if the territorial government would commit to keeping the power on in the highrise to ensure aircraft and passenger safety.

Infrastructure Minister Diane Archie noted the owner of a private building is responsible for complying with federal aviation regulations.

“We remain hopeful that the owner will be able to find a solution by November 6th and will be able to keep the electricity on the building,” said Archie, referring to the date Satdeo has to make a payment to the power company. “Should this not happen, there will be a notice to airmen, or the NOTAM, created that will advise pilots of the building that does not have a rooftop beacon in the vicinity of the Hay River airport.”

Simpson noted that for probably $5,000 or $6,000 the GNWT can keep the power on for for the rest of the winter.

When asked about the status of electricity to the building, Satdeo said the power will remain on all winter.

“There is probably about a $6,000 power bill every month,” he said. “I haven’t approached the government to pay it, but somehow we’re going to have to pay it. Whether the government pays it or we pay it, but some way or the other it’s going to be paid and the power is going to stay on.”

The power company has issued an ultimatum for payment by Nov. 6, he noted, adding he hopes the government might “chip in” to help with that.

Satdeo said the building has been winterized, meaning pipes have been drained so there is no water to freeze, and the elevator has been shut down.

Speaking from Florida, he also noted there is no heat on in the building, but that could change depending on the results of the consultant’s review for the GNWT.

“It’s no point heating the building all winter if you don’t have approval to reopen it,” he said. “It costs about $30,000 a month wintertime to heat the building.”

Satdeo said the lack of heat would not damage the building since it has been winterized.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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