Fears for heritage facade allayed

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 22/01/2014
Club Hotel
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ
FEARS ALLAYED: While the quake wreaked havoc on some buildings, others, like the Club Hotel building, emerged unscathed.

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Early fears that Monday's earthquake could have complicated a project to rebuild Palmerston North's quake-prone Club Hotel building and preserve its heritage facade have been allayed.

The 6.2 magnitude earthquake centred 15 kilometres east of Eketahuna that damaged houses, tossed items off shelves, cut power to thousands and caused road closures, has so far resulted in more than 650 claims to the Earthquake Commission.

While it wreaked havoc on some buildings, others, like the Club Hotel building, emerged unscathed.

The Kiwi Income Property Trust, owner of the Church St building that makes up part of The Plaza, began the demolition, preservation and rebuild this month.

It involves securing the facade of the building that is listed in the city's District Plan for its heritage value while reconstruction takes place behind it.

Retail portfolio manager Karl Retief said an engineer and builder had checked the building site looking for earthquake damage.

"We did hold our breath a little, but it all appears to be fine. It has not caused any drama."

The trust decided to demolish and rebuild everything except the facade after the building scored the lowest possible rating for its capacity to withstand a moderate earthquake.

Formerly home to the Bank of New Zealand, the building was closed last year because of the risks.

The trust was not the only organisation carrying out post-quake checks.

New Zealand Post has called in engineers to inspect its Palmerston North mail processing centre, and buildings in Eketahuna and Masterton.

A NZ Post spokesman said there had been no reported damage or loss of service in Manawatu or Tararua, and the checks were precautionary.

Similarly, the wind turbines on top of the ranges between Palmerston North and Tararua survived the earthquake intact.

Palmerston North Hospital didn't have such a lucky escape, however, with several cracked windows and a leaky fire sprinkler, which dripped through the ceiling in one of the north block wards.

At Courtesy Ford in John F Kennedy Drive, "pretty much all" of the false ceiling in the showroom collapsed, raining plaster and air conditioning pipes and prompting salesman Curtis Cavanagh to head for the door.

Likewise, City Fitness gym in Pitt St had some of the ceiling panels and insulation fall on the basketball court.

Meanwhile, Palmerston North City Council property manager John Brenkley was delighted with the way the civic administration building and other council-owned facilities stood up to the shaking.

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The civic building, Te Manawa, Square Edge, the Kelvin Grove Crematorium, the old Keith St power station, the former Rugby Museum in Cuba St and the old grandstand at Fitzherbert Park are all on the list of earthquake-prone buildings. Mr Brenkley said the top floors of the civic building must have moved considerably more than the lower floors, with evidence showing where some timber door frames had twisted and cracked.

"But that's pretty superficial, and indicates the seismic joints have performed exactly as they were designed to do."

There were no broken windows or ceiling panels - just a few stacks of books and files that had toppled off desks on to the floors.

The lifts, programmed to shut down in an earthquake, had been checked for safety and were all working again yesterday afternoon.

Mr Brenkley said there were no reports of damage to other council-owned buildings beyond a loose drain pipe at the crematorium and a bit of plaster dust at the base of a column at the library.

There were no new weaknesses revealed that would influence the content of a report being prepared to advise the council what work needed to be done to strengthen its buildings.

That report, including costs and advice on priorities for strengthening work, was due to be presented in April or May.

Council infrastructure, including the water supply, were checked and cleared on the day of the quake.

Water assets engineer Dora Luo said it was a good test for the Turitea dams, just 27km away from the quake's epicentre.

Photos of the dam faces and abutments would be taken so detailed comparisons could be made to check there were no changes to the structures. Bridges were found to be fine.

Horizons Regional Council spokeswoman Kate Ritani said engineers had checked the region's stopbanks and found no damage from the earthquake.

Power had been lost at several pump stations immediately after the earthquake but it was quickly restored, she said.

Rockfalls at several rivers following Monday's quake were a timely reminder to swimmers to stay away from cliff faces when enjoying the region's rivers, Mrs Ritani said.

Council staff would be checking popular swimming spots to ensure warning signs were in place.

- Manawatu Standard

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