18 months to reinforce Majestic Centre

CITY'S TALLEST: Wellington's Majestic Centre.
CITY'S TALLEST: Wellington's Majestic Centre.

Wellington's tallest office block, the Majestic Centre, needs to be earthquake strengthened at a cost of $35 million.

Chris Gudgeon, chief executive of building owner Kiwi Income Property Trust, said the assessment by Holmes Consulting had recommended a range of structural and detail work to lift the building from a moderate to low earthquake risk.

The work would take about 18 months and the plan was to do a lot of it after hours and at weekends to minimise disruptions for tenants – which include the Earthquake Commission.

The announcement comes just three weeks after the decision was made to demolish Kiwi Income's modern 20-storey PricewaterhouseCoopers building in Christchurch. Earthquakes damaged its foundation and beam column joints to such an extent that it was uneconomic to repair.

News of what needs to be done to the Majestic Centre raises serious questions about the seismic strength of many other Wellington office buildings built in the past 20 to 30 years.

Many Wellington workers and their employers have been questioning the safety of their buildings and requiring owners to get assessments done.

The 28-storey circular Majestic Centre, which straddles the corner of Willis and Boulcott streets, was built in 1990-91 and is valued at more than $100 million.

Tenants include the Japanese embassy, building and engineering consultancy Opus International, Ernst & Young, the Earthquake Commission and Airways.

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said it obtained a seismic engineer's opinion of the Majestic Centre in 2004 before moving in and was satisfied with the assessment.

The reassessment showed the building was a moderate risk – rated as meeting between 34 and 66 per cent of the current code – and some strengthening needed to be done.

However, engineers had advised that the building was acceptable for continued occupation. "We are working closely with Majestic Centre management, who are currently awaiting detailed proposals and specifications from the structural engineers for upgrading the building, and have no plans to shift EQC's national office in the interim," Mr Simpson said.

Wellington City Council spokesman Grahame Armstrong said it had been told about the assessment. It welcomed Kiwi Income's pro-active announcement of its plan to carry out strengthening work and encouraged other building owners to do the same.

Asked what this indicated about the strength of many other modern Wellington buildings, Mr Armstrong said the council was focusing on older buildings that were more likely to be earthquake-prone. It was assessing all of the city's pre-1976 buildings and it still had about 800 buildings to go.

Mr Gudgeon said getting the Majestic Centre into a low-risk category was a key requirement to ensure it retained its status as an A-grade building.

"We are committed to strengthening work and our tenants are pleased to hear that."

Fellow Wellington earthquake engineer Adam Thornton said the building's relegation to moderate-risk status "doesn't mean it's a death trap. But it is not up to the highest level and that could be an issue with tenants".

Majestic Centre

Height 116m – 28 storeys.

Floor space – 30,000 square metres.

Built – 1991.

Owner – Kiwi Income Property.

Rating value – $104.5 million.

Seismic rating – moderate, 34-66 per cent of current standard.

Cost to strengthen – $35m.

Time to fix it –18 months plus.