Red-stickered Hurunui Hotel owners defend decision not to do critical earthquake work
Owners of the recently red-stickered Hurunui Hotel were warned of critical weaknesses in the building more than three years ago, but were given 25 years to carry out remedial work.
Drinkers were oblivious that an engineer was so concerned about the risk of the front wall falling in a major earthquake, he suggested building a timber or shipping container tunnel to the front door to keep patrons safe.
Hotel owner Rodger Strong defended the decision not to follow the engineer's recommendations.
He said the Hurunui District Council's earthquake prone buildings policy gave them 25 years from 2012 to do the work because of the hotel's category 1 heritage status, they could not afford it, and it could have led to legal issues with the lessee.
Christchurch engineer Richard Sullivan has assessed the hotel several times, most recently last Friday.
He said he was surprised so little of the recommended work had been done and that the hotel was still standing after the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake.
Sullivan's 2013 engineering report found there was a high likelihood of the front wall falling over a commonly used seating area, and it should be fenced off and a tunnel built to the entrance.
The report said the dangerous south wall should be taken down to sill level, and other problem areas around the east and west gable walls fenced off.
The hotel was assessed as being between 10 per cent and 14 per cent of the national building standard, and Sullivan recommended plans be prepared to immediately address high risk areas.
During his inspection on Friday he found part of an interior gable wall had fallen onto the ceiling of a room on the first floor.
"Somehow it didn't fall into the bedroom below.
"There were some quite big chunks of concrete that would have done some serious damage if they had gone through."
The council's building team leader Kerry Walsh said that prior to the latest big shake the hotel was deemed earthquake prone, rather than dangerous.
As a result, the council could not force the owner to fence off problem areas, do remedial work, or display a sign warning members of the public about the state of the building.
"Our hands are tied even though there [were] some obvious risks there with the building being earthquake prone."
Walsh said that after seeing the 2013 engineering report he was reluctant to enter the building and he was surprised it had not sustained more damage in the recent earthquake.
The unreinforced masonry building, which is close to a known fault line, was initially allowed to reopen by council building inspectors following the earthquake, but closed a day later after an insurance assessor raised safety concerns.
Walsh said now the building had been red-stickered the owner would have to come up with options.
"Demolition probably won't be an option because of its category one heritage status … so I'm assuming you would have to fence or upgrade and repair it."
Hotel owner Rodger Strong said full earthquake strengthening of the hotel could cost in the region of $3 million.
They could not afford to do it without substantial help from outside sources such as the Historic Places Trust.
Heritage New Zealand heritage architecture advisor Dave Margetts said it had given money to help previous owners repair the hotel in the 1980s and had received an enquiry from the Strongs on Wednesday.
Sean Madden, who took over the hotel lease two months ago, said he knew earthquake strengthening had to be done within 25 years, but was unaware of safety issues covered in the 2013 engineering report.
"Earthquakes were not on my horizon at all, we just flew down from Auckland."
Madden said they were now operating from a cafe next door to the hotel and had found alternative accommodation for 13 irrigation workers who had been staying before the hotel was closed.