Shaken and then stirred into action

HANK SCHOUTEN
Last updated 11:28 12/07/2014
Wellington quake
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
Chairman Warren Larsen inspects damage to Wellington's CentrePort caused by the weekend's 6.5 earthquake.

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The big earthquake that shook Wellington a year ago has been a big wake-up for the city, says Wellington City Council earthquake resilience manager Neville Brown.

As he sees it, the quake which hit at 5.09pm on Sunday, July 21, was "great practice".

The CBD was all but closed down for the day as workers were advised to stay home pending inspections to determine whether buildings were safe.

Quake damage forced a few buildings to be vacated, dozens of business were forced or prompted to find safer premises and there has been a rush of strengthening projects.

Brown acknowledges it could easily have been much worse.

"The advice we have is that if the ground shaking had continued for an extended period we would have had a significantly worse disaster on our hands."

As it was, some buildings lost glass and masonry and needed repairs but none collapsed.

After engineering checks, the city was almost back to normal by the Tuesday.

"We got back up and running very quickly after the event.

"Sure, a number of buildings had to have repairs of various degrees. People got on with that and within a matter of days we were up and running pretty well to full capacity."

However, a year on a number of buildings, including two multi- storey car parks, are still empty,

The Oyster Group, which owns the James Smith car park, this week said Hawkins Construction had been appointed the main contractors for the car park repair project.

Hawkins was scheduled to start work on site next week and the project was expected to be completed in three or four months.

The Amora Hotel ballroom, which is on top of the car park, has also remained closed pending completion of the repair work.

There was no indication when the Reading car park in Wakefield St would be repaired. Its owners have not responded to requests from The Dominion Post for an update.

Brown said retailers were concerned at the loss of parking, particularly when special events were on, and the council wanted to see them back up and running.

Other large buildings out of action pending strengthening, demolition or sale include the Public Trust and Harcourts buildings in Lambton Quay, the BP building in Jervois Quay, the former Greater Wellington Regional Council building in Wakefield St, St Mary of the Angels Church and the former Dominion Post building in Boulcott St.

Brown said many other buildings had strengthening work underway, completed or close to being completed.

Apart from the parking building issues, the city coped well.

He could not guess what might have happened if the shaking had continued for another 30 seconds or a minute.

"We just don't know how the shake would affect buildings and every earthquake is different.

"No buildings collapsed and that wasn't just luck.

"I would say that was a reflection of building standards we know we have and consequently the damage was minimal."

By the end of June, the council had assessed 5200 city buildings and of those about 680 were regarded as earthquake-prone.

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Those buildings were a worry.

"But what gives us heart is that building owners are being extremely proactive, which is why we see scaffolds around the city as people are doing the work."

There were no parts of the city that caused him particular concern.

The quake-prone buildings listed on the council's website were scattered all around.

The number in Cuba St had come down significantly. Others were in Te Aro, Courtenay Place and Newtown but the majority of owners were getting on with doing the work.

There were only five buildings where notice to strengthen had expired and "we're working with all of those owners to achieve an outcome".

These included Erskine College in Island Bay, the Adelaide Hotel, the Flamingo Building in Hutt Rd, Thorndon, and the former Ernestos Cafe building on the corner of Cuba and Ghuznee streets.

Brown said that all the buildings on the council's list could be assumed to be pre-1976 buildings as it had not yet received detailed assessments of some of the clearly problematic modern buildings, such as the regional council headquarters.

Commenting on the near-new BNZ Harbour Quays building, which is still being repaired after ceilings collapsed and pipes burst, Brown said experts were still looking at why that occurred.

"If there is something to learn then we ought to learn it because we want to prevent such damage occurring in future."

The council itself also has some big decisions looming on some of its own buildings.

Options for strengthening the Town Hall, estimated to cost $60 million, will be put to the council on August 27.

A $17m cost blowout halted the project earlier this year but Brown said he was "confident we will get a decision to carry on".

Options for strengthening the Opera House will also be taken to the council later this year after investigations into the site are completed.

- The Dominion Post

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