Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Heritage baths ready to open early with a splash

Historic features have been enhanced in the $16m restoration project. Photo / Dean Purcell
Historic features have been enhanced in the $16m restoration project. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland's landmark Tepid Baths will reopen early after a projected three-year repair was finished in just over two years.

The 98-year-old indoor pools and gym could reopen as early as mid-July, although Auckland Council has not set a date.

"Construction is still on track for completion in the second quarter of 2012 and the baths are expected to open in mid-2012," a council statement said.

In 2009, the council said that because of severe structural damage, the pools would be shut, and would probably not re-open until 2013.

"Independent engineers advised council that the building's structural issues pose a significant risk to public health and safety," it said then.

The YMCA gym Y-Fitness Centre shut first, then the pools.

The council allocated $15.8 million for the repair job, and the contract was awarded to Auckland construction company NZ Strong.

A few days ago, a powhiri was held at dawn and now the new 25m pool and a smaller learners' pool on the southern side - previously the women's pool - are sparkling with fresh water and marked out for lane swimming.

A gymnasium has been built in a new upper level on the Fanshawe St side of the building, with windows overlooking the pool. Gym equipment has yet to be installed.

The entire three-sided facade, which faces the lower Hobson St flyover, has been refurbished and strengthened in a job understood to have posed many engineering and construction challenges.

Bringing the dilapidated building up to the present building code involved sinking foundations down as far as 15m, well below the water table on the reclaimed land.

"Externally, it is slow and delicate work, stripping 100 years of paint away from the front facade," a council update on the job said.

"Much of the building plaster needs repairing and this will be carefully undertaken before a breathable paint system is applied."

On February 20, the tall Tepid Baths sign was reinstated in its original design on to the building.

The work was initially projected to cost $3 million and be finished by the time of the Rugby World Cup last year.

But it has closer to $16 million and involved one of the most extensive tiling exercises in downtown Auckland.

Historic features have been enhanced, the council says. Cabanas around the learners' pool and main pool have been built to match the original 1914 design.

About 195,000 people a year used the baths before they shut, but the new building will be able take more people.

THE TEPS

Basic facts:

* Corner Customs /Sturdee/ Lower Hobson Sts
* Shut April 2010
* Tentative reopening date around July
* Centenary celebrations in 2014
* Originally saltwater pools
* Salt corroded pool walls
* New pools built
* Old building facade strengthened
* Entirely new building behind.

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