Mayor vows to protect tower

LAIRD HARPER
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2014
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The Hawera water tower
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South Taranaki's mayor will stand in front of the bulldozer before he sees the region's iconic water tower demolished.

The future of Hawera's tower hangs in the balance after a seismic report questioned the strength of its foundations.

It may cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix, but Ross Dunlop has ruled out knocking it down.

"If there was any attempt to demolish it, I would be standing in front of the demolition equipment," he said.

The region will celebrate the important structure's 100th birthday next week, but the report suggests it will need considerable assistance if it is to see too many more.

The investigation, commissioned by the South Taranaki District Council, found the below-ground section of the building had a seismic capacity of just 8 per cent to 26 per cent of the new building standard (NBS), due to ash soils that surround the base.

All public buildings need to be at least 34 per cent of the NBS.

Council engineering services group manager Brent Manning said it would now conduct an in-depth assessment of the entire tower.

He said the council needed to find out if the tower itself was vulnerable to earthquakes and to understand what effect widening the foundations would have on the rest of the building.

"There would be no point in spending money upgrading the foundations only to find that the actual above-ground structure is also earthquake prone."

Mr Manning said the tower would remain open to the public because access to the building was controlled.

Unlike Patea's Hunter Shaw building, which was closed last year because of earthquake concerns, it was not a public meeting space, Mr Manning said.

It was too early to look at possible options for the tower's future or potential costs, but widening the foundation alone would hit $600,000.

Mr Dunlop said knocking it over would be "quite an expensive exercise", which bolstered the argument for protecting it.

He would like to see it used for years to come, but if it was closed to the public it needed to be retained as a visual amenity.

The in-depth assessment was expected to take about six months.

Built to keep insurance premiums steady after three massive fires in the Hawera central business area in 1884, 1888 and 1912, the tower has had an eventful life.

As it neared completion in 1914, the structure - built using 1340 tonnes of hand-mixed concrete - started to lean.

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According to Hawera mythology, the 55-metre tower was repaired in the dead of night.

It was closed on two separate occasions in 1972 and 1990 for maintenance work, prompting a 1997 proposal to demolish it - 58 per cent of residents supported the idea at the time.

However, three years later, and after strong campaigning, another poll showed 78 per cent in favour of keeping it.

Shortly after the tower was closed again when pieces of masonry started falling off it.

Then in 2004 work began on a $1.1 million makeover. The water tower was reopened seven months later.

- Taranaki Daily News

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