Owners of 80 Wellington CBD buildings ordered to do more invasive testing
The owners of about 80 buildings in Wellington's CBD have been ordered by Wellington City Council to do more invasive testing in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquake.
The move comes after early results from a Government investigation into Statistics House, at CentrePort, revealed buildings with similar characteristics, sited on soft soil, should be prioritised for detailed engineering inspections.
The orders fall under new powers handed to the council, allowing it to compel building owners to obtain and share assessments.
However, no immediate action, such as closure, will need to be taken.
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Wellington Mayor Justin Lester is giving written notice to more than 250 people who own the buildings, ordering them to undertake further inspections.
Thousands of occupants of nearby buildings will also be notified by the council.
City council recovery manager Mike Mendonca said the buildings were all between four and 16 floors high, made out of reinforced concrete, with precast concrete slab floors.
The owners would be told to undertake "more invasive" testing of their buildings, which were spread throughout the CBD.
This included ripping up carpets and examining corners for a more thorough check, he said.
All the buildings on the list have undergone initial inspections, and some are already closed.
"This extra step is just to be absolutely sure," Mendonca said. "There is no evidence to indicate anything else."
The council was working closely with the Institution of Professional Engineers and Auckland University to come up with a detailed checklist of what to look for during the assessments, with engineers undergoing training on Monday night.
Building owners must inform the council by January 20 whether they have work underway.
"We are giving owners until February 10 to complete the work," Mendonca said.
"At that point we will expect building owners to have made decisions around what, if anything, they need to do with their buildings. We don't anticipate massive issues around evacuation."
Lester said: "This is all about what we can do now to make the city safer in the future.
"We want to weed out these buildings and better understand how they work. We want to make Wellington and its buildings as safe and resilient as possible."
He was hopeful the new information would not lead to more building closures.
Earlier this month, the council was given its emergency earthquake powers by acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee.
On Monday, Brownlee said the owners of buildings had a duty to tenants under the health and safety and employment acts, and further inspections were the right thing to do. "It's a belt-and-braces exercise."
There were hundreds of buildings in Wellington, and 80 was not a large number.
"I expect the majority will be cleared quickly. It's a reasonable precaution."
City council chief executive Kevin Lavery said: "We want to use the powers and be proactive, and make sure we are well equipped for any further aftershocks."
After the spate of recent building evacuations, Victoria University building science lecturer Geoff Thomas, who inspected buildings after the Canterbury quake in 2011, said not a lot of damage was immediately obvious in some buildings.
After the Kaikoura quake, shaking in buildings with more than eight storeys, on soft soils, had been close to the limit of what they were designed to handle.
"This raised red flags, because there was potential for significant damage."
If those buildings were subjected to the same level of shaking during an aftershock, near Wellington, they might collapse, he said.
Stuff and the Dominion Post have started an ongoing investigation into Wellington's earthquake response.
Work on the 'Faultlines' series started within days of the November 14 quake, when holes in the city's earthquake response became apparent.
'Faultines' initially focuses on the management of earthquake-prone buildings.
Further results from the investigation will be published this week and in the New Year.
The 'Faultlines' team will continue work through 2017. You can contact the team via email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.