Hamilton may face massive fix bill
Ratepayers may be liable for costly strengthening if it is needed for a Hamilton mall built similarly to Christchurch’s disastrous CTV building.
Hamilton City Council staff are refusing to say whether ratepayers own any of eight buildings with the specific, potentially earthquake-prone designs.
However the Waikato Times understands ratepayers may be liable for some of the repairs should a report on the Downtown Plaza building, on top of the city’s underground car park, find any problems.
The liability would arise because the car park supports a substantial part of Kiwi Income Property Trust’s $40 million Centreplace redevelopment.
It is believed staff have asked for an urgent engineering report on the mall, but chief executive Barry Harris said until further work was completed he could not say whether there was even potential liability for the city council.
The Times has learned construction methods used in the CTV building that collapsed, killing 115 people in November’s earthquake were identified in eight city buildings by the former department of building and housing.
Downtown Plaza was completed in 1994, about eight years after what was then the Alexandra St Underground Car Park, which opened in 1986.
Council repurchased the carpark in 2009 for $9 million, and it is believed an agreement signed then requires it to on-sell the 27 year-old building to Kiwi Income Property Holdings at market value by next September.
Kiwi Property Management Limited general manager development Mark Luker did not return calls over several days or respond to left messages.
The eight buildings were thrown up by a nationwide survey by the ministry of businesses, innovation and employment, and staff won’t name them on the grounds it would unfairly prejudice the owners’ commercial position.
Mr Harris described the work as a ‘‘desktop exercise’’ and until it was known whether the potential issues identified were actual issues, he did not know whether there was any significant potential for a cost to the city council.
Council building control manager Phil Saunders earlier said MBIE engineers assessed 1364 building files nationally provided by councils. Of those, 158 needed investigation due to reliance on non-ductile, inflexible columns.
The existence of non-ductile columns does not necessarily prove a building will fail in an earthquake, but were a critical factor in the CTV collapse.
Council staff have advised the owners and given them 90 days to assess the structural integrity of the columns. The ministry advised councils to keep identification of the buildings confidential so that structural inspections could be carried out and any remedial works arranged where necessary.
Responding to questions from the Times, staff cited the same grounds to refuse to confirm even whether any of the buildings are ratepayer-owned.
Earthquake strengthening has become a huge issue for building owners around the country, in some cases requiring millions of dollars of remediation.
It was now up to owners ‘‘what action, if any, they choose to take regarding their particular building. Buildings with non-ductile gravity columns can be successfully strengthened,’’ Mr Saunders said in a prepared statement.
Through communications staff, Mr Saunders said the only factor that the buildings had in common was non-ductile column construction, between 1982 and 1995. ‘‘In a number of cases we’ve already received feedback and engineering advice that shows the buildings are not earthquake-prone or pose any danger,’’ said Mr Saunders. Staff would not state how many had been cleared by further investigation despite being specifically asked.
City property industry sources told the Times their understanding was the car park was originally engineered to support a nine-storey building.
Councillor Dave Macpherson said city politicians are in the dark: ‘‘I know nothing about the eight. And if any are council owned, I’d like to know.’’
He said even if there was only potential financial liability for council, that should have been reported to elected members and in its risk reporting.
Council staff were already completing a separate evaluation of Hamilton buildings’ vulnerability to earthquakes, with more than 1200 engineers’ reports completed on those identified as potentially earthquake-prone.
In April Mr Saunders said the city’s building stock was generally ‘‘a damn sight better than in Christchurch. We’re looking at information coming out of Canterbury, the Royal Commission and a number of other things to make sure that we understand the issues for Hamilton,’’ he said then.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you agree with Hamilton City Council's plan to introduce a minimum living wage for its lowest paid workers?Related story: Hamilton City Council backs living wage