Timaru checks 'cut damage'

About 180 Timaru commercial buildings were assessed for earthquake strength in the 1970s and 80s, with the remedial work undertaken reducing the damage in recent earthquakes, former district council building control manager Ray Smith says.

Commenting on the scheme when approached by The Herald, Mr Smith said that during a 15year period council staff inspected about 180 unreinforced masonry buildings of two storeys or more. Work ceased when the present building act came into force in 1991.

Buildings were rated A to D with A being dangerous and D adequate.

Inspections covered the majority of buildings in the central business district. About 10 per cent were given an A rating. Many of those buildings, including the Crown and Club hotels, have been demolished, while substantial strengthening work was done on others, including the Royal and Old Bank hotels. Several buildings had their second floor removed to improve earthquake safety.

The inspections aimed to assess how the buildings would react in a moderate earthquake. The buildings had to be brought up to standard within four years. The criteria being used was a percentage of the building strength required in the 1965 building code.

He estimated that might have been only half the 33 per cent minimum that buildings must meet today if they undergo a change of use or significant alterations.

Eight to 10 councils around New Zealand used the same assessment system. Mr Smith said it surprised him neither Christchurch nor Dunedin councils undertook similar inspections.

"We were not paying lip service to it," the former manager said. "I like to think we made it better."

A lot of chimneys were taken down after the assessment. Other work undertaken included parapets being repaired, ornamentation removed, and verandas strengthened.

Collapsing parapets and verandas were responsible for some deaths in the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

If the work in the 1970s and 80s had not been done, Mr Smith believes there would have been more damage to Timaru's CBD because the buildings were similar in age and design to many that collapsed in Christchurch.

The earlier inspections would not be used as a baseline for any further inspections and evaluations if proposals contained in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's consultation document became law, council regulatory services manager Chris English said yesterday.

"All buildings coming under the Government's mandate will be required to be assessed within five years by the owners and a detailed engineering evaluation provided to the council," he said.

"[This] . . . will form the basis for a comprehensive EPB [earthquake-prone building] register."

The Timaru Herald