Demolition halted as more property found

PAINSTAKING PROCESS: Tenants from Community House in Hereford St search for their items among demolition gear stored at the Shilton and Brown salvage warehouse in Heathcote.
JOSEPH JOHNSON
PAINSTAKING PROCESS: Tenants from Community House in Hereford St search for their items among demolition gear stored at the Shilton and Brown salvage warehouse in Heathcote.

Nearly two weeks after being told nothing from their building was recoverable, Community House tenants learnt yesterday that many items had been found in the central Christchurch building.

Alec Neill, the chairman of the Canterbury Community Trust (CCT), which owns the building at 141 Hereford St, said he had been contacted at noon yesterday by project manager Structex about the discovery of contents in a back part of the building previously thought to be inaccessible.

He had asked for the items to be retrieved by Grace Removals, and the demolition was stopped, he said.

DISCOVERY: Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi, left, and Jim Shilton, of Shilton and Brown Demolition  amongst recovered items stored at the salvage company's warehouse in Heathcote.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ
DISCOVERY: Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi, left, and Jim Shilton, of Shilton and Brown Demolition amongst recovered items stored at the salvage company's warehouse in Heathcote.

Items found included valuable records, computer equipment and outdoor equipment, apparently belonging to the Project K organisation, which takes young people on wilderness experiences and whose insurer went into liquidation.

"It's a substantial amount of material," Neill said.

The discovery has capped a tumultuous week for the building's 23 tenants. On September 30, they were told by the CCT it had received "confirmation" none of the tenants' property could be recovered from the building because of safety concerns.

On the same day, staff of tenant Christchurch Small Business Enterprise Centre (CSBEC) found many items from their office at the salvage yard of demolition contractor Shilton and Brown in Heathcote. The other contractor on the site is March Construction.

The CSBEC raised concerns about the fate of valuable records previously stored in filing cabinets and cupboards found at the yard.

It also transpired the demolition crews working in the building had not managed to find any cash or personal items, such as wallets and cellphones.

This week, police said they had arrested a 23-year-old demolition worker for the theft of electronic equipment from 141 Hereford St. Shilton and Brown confirmed yesterday the worker was its employee.

Neill said he was disappointed when told some of the tenants' chattels were found in the demolition yard last week and he had expressed those views to March Construction and Shilton and Brown.

The saga had been a major lesson for demolition companies, he said.

Geoff Banks, a director of Structex, said the back part of the building had become safely accessible after a tower had been removed yesterday.

It was the contractors' responsibility to decide if a building was safe to enter, and Structex had conveyed that advice to the building owner.

Shilton and Brown yesterday allowed Community House tenants to inspect its yard to see if they recognised any of their property.

Canterbury Muscular Dystrophy Association office manager Eris Le Compte, whose office was on the first floor of Community House, said she had gone to look for the 230 personal medical files she had in her office.

They amounted to 20 years of records of immense value to the association, she said.

She left empty-handed.

CSBEC manager Lindsay Jeffs said two of his sub-tenants had recovered goods. Wisden Education had retrieved its computer and the Pacific Business Trust had found a fridge, office table and desk chair.

IN THE WRECKING RULES

Under Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority rules, demolition firms must return building contents lost or destroyed in the demolition to the building owner.

Tenants need to provide a list of items they would like retrieved (if possible) to the building owner if the building's demolition is being managed by the owner (the demolition of Community House was managed by the CCT).

Building contents do not form part of a demolition contractor's salvage right. Items recovered during the demolition process remain the property of the owner.

Where an insurance company has paid out on the contents of a building, the insurer becomes the owner of the contents. Demolition contractors should contact the building owner (owner-managed demolitions), who will contact tenants for instructions.

In the case of Community House, the list provided by tenants was not passed on to the demolition contractors (March Construction and Shilton and Brown) and the demolition contractors did not ask for one.

The Press