New Plymouth's old Barrett St hospital complex has been declared an earthquake and health risk, and its tenants have been ordered to leave it as soon as possible.
A group of illegal tenants have been told they have seven days to get out, or the police will be called and they will be forcibly removed.
All the tenants - legal and otherwise - were called to a special meeting at the complex early yesterday morning, where Justice Ministry officials gave them the bad news.
It has left them reeling, and worried where they will now go. The complex has seven official tenants and up to five squatters.
New Plymouth School of Gymnastics head coach Brian Bamber said he thought the meeting had been called to advise that the complex had been passed over to local iwi through the Office of Treaty Settlements.
"But instead we've been told to get out," he said from the gym, which is a former children's ward.
"I'm really worried - this is going to impact badly on us. We have more than 300 school kids attend our classes during the week, and we have adult classes at nights and during weekends.
"We need space. It's going to be very difficult to find new premises with enough room to put all our gear out."
Fellow tenant Jill Fearn, whose business Carrington Funeral Services leases the old hospital's mortuary, said the announcement came as a shock.
"We've been told we have to find somewhere else asap - but where do you find a morgue? We're probably going to have to build one, and that's going to impact on our business."
Maori immersion early children centre Te Kopae Piripono spent yesterday trying to digest the ramifications of the announcement, said tumukauru (co-director) Aroaro Tamati.
"It's all pretty much new news to us. But we're an upbeat organisation and we know there will be a pathway forward for us," she said of the centre, which has been at Barrett St since 1994 and has more than 30 children and 10 staff.
The Barrett St complex comprises 18 areas of 10 separate single and double storey buildings made from timber, concrete and unreinforced brick masonry. They range in age from the 1920s to the 1970s.
The complex underwent a seismic strength assessment as part of a Justice Ministry check of all its properties after the Christchurch earthquakes.
An engineering report has found that all the buildings pose a risk to tenants if there is a serious earthquake. As well, a separate building inspection has confirmed that many of the buildings on site do not meet health and safety regulations because of serious issues including asbestos contamination and unsafe electrical systems.
"The ministry takes the safety of its tenants and the general public very seriously, so has no choice but to vacate the property and close the buildings to the public," it said.
Once all the tenants have gone, the complex will be decommissioned - which means that all services such as power, water and sewerage will be stopped and the property locked up. Warning notices will be erected, entrances will be closed off, and security patrols will be put in place.
The ministry says it will work closely with affected tenants to help them find new accommodation, and with local authorities and iwi to discuss options for the site.
The Taranaki Daily News understands at least five illegal tenants live within the complex, and that some of them have been there for at least 15 years.
Justice Ministry spokesman Nathan Green said that every person without a valid lease now had seven days to get out. Asked what would happen if they refused to go, he said the police would be called.
ENGINEERS PROVIDE DAMNING LIST OF SHORTCOMINGS
The expert opinions tell it all - the old Barrett St hospital complex is deteriorating so badly that it is now unsafe for occupation.
For several years the complex's buildings have only undergone essential maintenance, and this has meant they have passed their useful lives inside and out, and the deterioration is accelerating.
It would cost at least $50 million to either repair the buildings or replace them. Neither option is considered financially viable - so the only option left is to remove the people who use the complex or live there, and board it up.
This year the Ministry of Justice commissioned two investigations into the condition of the old hospital complex, and reports from both make sad reading.
One report, by engineering consultancy CoveKinloch, covers the conditions of the buildings in relation to compliance with current Building Code and Building Act regulations.
"The buildings fall well short of the current building code requirements with evidence of structural damage and decay, significant shortfalls in fire safety, external moisture ingress, internal moisture affecting services and facilities and safety of users with hazardous materials including asbestos which is evident in and around a majority of the buildings," it says.
"There are numerous disused toilets and sinks in the buildings in which the water traps have dried out and the water seal lost and failed, allowing foul odours and fumes to enter the buildings from the sewer pipes.
"In general the electrical systems are well past their serviceable life with insulation deterioration, ageing hardware and poor circuit protection adding to the risk of electrical fire."
Opus International Consultants was commissioned to undertake an assessment of the earthquake risk at the old hospital complex, and its report says that of 18 separate areas assessed, 15 were below 33 per cent of current national building standards.
"Typical hazards include the potential for collapse of parapets and chimneys, unreinforced masonry walls and heavy roofs. Falling debris and collapsing heavy elements represent a very high risk to the occupants and public."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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