Findings cast doubt over Trafalgar Centre closure

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 12:58 23/04/2014

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Nelson City Council has confirmed the Trafalgar Centre piles are 11 metres deep, after debate on the matter among the community.

It decided to investigate after opponent to the closure of the Trafalgar Centre, former councillor Kerry Neal, maintained the piles were 11 metres rather than three metres, as council staff and engineering consultants had advised.

Neal argued this was absurd as the site the centre was built on was once an old dump site and it would have been unreasonable to only put the piles at a three-metre depth.

He presented a photo to the council last month, from a 1971 edition of the Nelson Mail, which detailed the length of the piles.

In response the council decided to investigate the depth and condition of the piles.

Works and infrastructure committee chairman Eric Davy said the valuable work by Neal and his counterparts had added to the other sources of information the council had received on the centre.

"We appreciate the work they have done," he said. "We had the information from a number of sources that they were 11m and we had information that they were three metres and so we determined that we needed to find out exactly what was down there," he said.

Davy said further investigations were being done on the condition of the piles as that was key to any future work to be done on the building.

Once that information was received a project team would meet with engineers to discuss options for the future of the building.

The council had been advised by one engineering consultant that the piles were 3m.

Davy said this is why the council was seeking advice from a range of engineers "to get the best engineering advice available".

He said the public could have confidence in the advice the council was receiving about the centre.

"They can have a very high level of confidence in the path forward that the council has chosen in that they are not relying on one consulting engineer's opinion and that we are ensuring that the opinions that are being put forward and that the final recommendation from the project team will be so robust that we are sure that the public will have confidence in the final result," he said.

Davy said the council was determined to reopen the building as soon as it could be made safe for the public to enter and this relied on more than just the depth of the piles.

Neal, along with the centre's designer and site engineer Ian Hatton, civil engineer David Brathwaite, and former principal building control officer and council active building consultant Mike Hislop, have presented a document to the council outlining issues they have with the reports the council has received.

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The group believes the council has acted on inaccurate information from a draft report when deciding to close the centre.

"Because of the seriousness of the fact that incorrect information has been distributed and that few, if any, of the above points have been addressed, councillors would be advised to rescind the motion to close the Trafalgar Centre and reconsider the whole issue," the group wrote.

Mayor Rachel Reese said the points raised by the group have been looked at by engineers.

"I think the fact that they are not specifically mentioned doesn't mean those factors weren't considered so those factors have been considered," she said.

Reese said it was naive to make assumptions off reading a report because of all the variables that had to be taken into account.

"What we know is that we had enough to know that we had to close it," she said. "I think that is a very fair call and I haven't had one engineer say to me you've made the absolutely wrong decision in closing it," she said.

It was not a black and white situation when dealing with earthquake-prone buildings as a number of variables had to be looked at over a variety of possible scenarios.

"One of the things we really have to grapple with is these aren't yes-no answers. They are professional assessments. What some engineers have said to me is if you ask five engineers to do assessments those engineers are going to come up with five different answers," she said.

She wants to move away from squabbling over the issues raised by Neal and company and focus on a solution to get the building open again.

In terms of the decision to close the building being made on a draft report, she said she had no issue with information she had received.

"From what I understand with those draft reports is that it is a watermark and there has been no changes to the final reports," she said.

She put it down to pressure on engineers trying to produce reports in a timely manner.

"I think we have bigger things to worry about than that. If what we had was a draft report where the recommendations between the draft and the final were different then I would be brassed off as that would be a serious," she said.

- Nelson

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