Council building a quake hazard

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 16/08/2012
Ray Swadel
FAIRFAX NZ
Ray Swadel

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The danger earthquake-prone Palmerston North City Council buildings pose to staff and the public has moved into the red-flag position on the council's official risk list.

The building causing most concern is the Albert St depot workshop, an old brick building previously part of the bus depot.

The whole building is at risk, meeting less than 20 per cent of the current building code.

But until a full engineering report is carried out, and recommendations from the Christchurch earthquake inquiries are known, the risks will be managed, not fixed.

City Networks general manager Ray Swadel said money spent on strengthening buildings could be wasted if the work did not measure up to what were bound to be new standards.

"We have to balance safety and responsibility."

Meantime, he said it was fortunate that the council's worst building was not a public one.

"But we are not just putting it in the too-hard basket. We have limited access to the building.

"We are making sure staff are aware of the limitations."

Storage and materials have gone to other buildings.

"And we are making sure egress is up to class, so people can get out of there fast if they have to."

The buildings at the rear of The Square Edge are also identified on the preliminary list of earthquake-prone buildings, with party walls meeting less than 20 per cent of the building code.

A more-detailed structural engineering report was being sought.

The library and the Regent had been brought up to standards 15 years ago, but would have to be reassessed against updated building codes.

The council's audit and risk committee yesterday received an updated operational risk profile that features concern about its own buildings endangering people.

The likelihood is identified as "rare", but the impact could be "extreme".

City Future policy planner Matt Mackay said council efforts to assess its own buildings and continue work to identify other earthquake-prone buildings in the city were continuing.

It would also be preparing an economic analysis of what the impact to the city would be if buildings had to be closed down for six to eight months for strengthening.

But a review of its earthquake-prone buildings policy has been delayed, subject to full council approval at the end of the month.

Along with the Dangerous and Insanitary Buildings Policy, it was due for review this year.

Mr Mackay said the delay would enable the council to make changes in line with final recommendations and law changes based on the lessons from Christchurch.

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Cr Duncan McCann said that it was "a no-brainer" to wait for the national findings and code changes.

"The Canterbury earthquakes have changed the landscape, and we need to get this right."

The Royal Commission final report is expected in November.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's building and housing group's recommendations for law changes could be enacted by May.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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