Curtain falls on Hastings' unsafe opera house

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 06/03/2014
Hawke's Bay opera house
THE OPERA HOUSE: Quite a weak old 85-year-old lady after all.

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Hawke's Bay's opera house was "the strongest 85-year-old lady in the Bay", the engineer behind its $13 million upgrade proclaimed just seven years ago.

But changes in the way unreinforced masonry buildings are assessed have meant it's actually quite a weak old lady, who could fall over in an earthquake and kill someone.

LHT Design structural engineer Krish Shekaran was quoted in June 2006 as saying he knew exactly where he would want to be if an earthquake were to shake Hawke's Bay - in an alley beside one of the upgraded opera walls.

Sadly for Mr Shekaran, those walls have now been found to be earthquake-prone, causing the opera house to close on Tuesday because they could collapse on an audience.

An assessment by LHT Design in July last year put the theatre and adjoining municipal building at 34 per cent to 67 per cent of the national building standard and suggested more invasive testing to get a more accurate figure.

The testing was done by Strata Group, which last week verbally advised Hastings District Council that unreinforced masonry in the building would not meet the 34 per cent threshold. Strata has not put a figure on the strength of the masonry. Strata will complete its report on the building by March 21. It will then be peer reviewed and the council will decide what to do with the building.

LHT Design director Alan Thompson said he was confident in the work his company had done on the building, and he was sure Mr Shekaran believed what he said at the time.

"The industry's knowledge, awareness and culture has moved on a long way and we know a lot more now," he said.

LHT Design had worked on other projects in Hastings, including Flaxmere Waterworld. Mr Thompson said he had "absolute confidence" in the company's other projects.

Those who had tickets to upcoming events were being asked to contact Ticketek for a refund or rebook at another venue.

Next week's Sol3Mio concert and the graduation ceremony for Eastern Institute of Technology have been moved to Napier Municipal Theatre.

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