Council may reopen closed buildings

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2014

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Some closed council buildings could be reopened if Christchurch City councillors follow through on plans to relax the rules on occupancy.

Since December 2011 it has been council policy to close any non-residential facilities in its ownership that fall below 34 per cent of New Building Standard (NBS).

About 236 buildings have been closed as a result of that policy.

A report went to the previous council in December 2012 that sought to get that policy changed amid concern that some of those buildings had been closed unnecessarily as they posed little danger, but the council was unwilling to alter the policy at that time.

Last year the council did agree to exempt about 27 buildings - mainly old wooden community halls, toilets, sheds and sports pavilions - from the policy so that they could be reopened.

A new report prepared by council staff recommends that the council rescind the previous policy and put in place a new framework for deciding whether a building is safe to occupy.

Under the proposed framework, a building that has not suffered significant damage and does not contain a brittle collapse mechanism could be occupied without restriction even if it fell below 34 per cent of NBS, provided engineers were satisfied it was fit to occupy.

The report, presented to the council's earthquake recovery committee-of-the-whole yesterday, said that since the original policy was put in place the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (Mbie) and Worksafe New Zealand had released guidance for assessing the seismic strength of buildings.

That guidance suggested the council's current occupation policy was "quite conservative".

Analysis of the detailed engineering evaluations done on council buildings had revealed a number of the buildings closed under the current policy might not have needed to be closed under the guidance from Mbie and Worksafe NZ.

"It may appear prudent to set a high cut-off or threshold for occupancy, however, this will result in more buildings being closed than may be necessary. Closed buildings incur disruption to the community and costs in providing temporary levels of service," the report said.

It also noted that latest information from GNS Science showed the likelihood of large aftershocks was dropping.

When asked at yesterday's committee meeting how many buildings were likely to be affected by the proposed policy revision, council facilities rebuild manager Darren Moses said: "I can't give you a number yet but there are possibly closed buildings that could be reopened."

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The committee voted unanimously to proceed with the policy change but its decision still needs to be ratified by the full council.

Once that happens later this month council staff will review the condition of all closed buildings to see whether any can be reopened under the new framework.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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