Future of former nurses' home looks decidedly shaky

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 24/04/2014
The Hilda Ross Building
Waikato District Health Board
COMING DOWN: The Hilda Ross Building (circled), currently home to Waikato Hospital’s Medihotel facility, may soon be demolished after being deemed not up to earthquake standards.

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A former nurses' accommodation block at Waikato Hospital, now used as temporary lodgings for out-of-town patients, may soon be demolished - before an earthquake gets the job done first.

The Hilda Ross Building, built in 1963, is now the home of the hospital's Medihotel facility, among other uses.

However, it looks likely that its existence may soon come to an end with a recommendation to the Waikato District Health Board that it be torn down.

Although yesterday's meeting of the board in Thames did not make any move to formally give the green light to bowl the 51-year-old building, the assembled board members heard plenty of good reasons why that should be the case.

Since the 2011 Canterbury earthquake all district health boards must assess their buildings and determine if they are safe if a decent-sized earthquake strikes.

A building is deemed "earthquake prone" if it is less than 33 per cent as strong as an equivalent building built today. It is categorised as an "earthquake risk" if it is 34 to 67 per cent as strong as an equivalent building built today.

The Hilda Ross Building has been assessed and rated at just 15 per cent on this scale.

The building's deficiencies were identified in a review of all the buildings managed by the health board, which was led by expert seismic engineer Jeff Matthews, of Holmes Consulting Group, and Malcolm Sabourin, of engineering firm Xigo.

The pair, who attended yesterday's meeting alongside building programme director Ian Wolstencroft, said the Hilda Ross Building posed a threat to surrounding buildings if it collapsed, including the neighbouring acute services building which housed the hospital's emergency department.

The team looked into several options for retaining the building in some way, including removing the top floors, or filling the bottom two floors with concrete to make the entire building more stable.

These were not deemed worthwhile. The Hilda Ross Building could still topple and cause damage to its neighbours even if it was reduced in height, while any extra concrete would just be an extra hassle - and extremely noisy - to remove.

While the eventual demolition of the Hilda Ross Building could be several years away, board members were urged to start thinking now about what would happen to the services it was used for once the wrecking ball started swinging.

Another report will be submitted to the board by December, setting out whether there is a need to rebuild to rehouse the Medihotel and other services - a move that could cost upwards of $17 million.

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Board member Crystal Beavis asked whether it would be feasible to approach other organisations to see if they would be interested in an arrangement to accommodate their students in a new building on the hospital campus.

While the Hilda Ross Building was by far the most earthquake prone on the Waikato Hospital campus, there were other much older structures that were less risky. Among these was the Campbell Johnstone Building, which from 1924 to 1980 was the hospital's main maternity centre and later found a new life as the home of a staff cafeteria.

The seismic survey also assessed buildings on the health board's other sites. While most of these were judged to be OK, another notable exception was the Te Kuiti campus main ward building, partly built on the site of an old landfill, and slightly subsiding. The health board faced a rebuilding and strengthening programme costing about $460,000.

- Waikato Times

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