From CBD style to car yard strip

By Amanda Cropp

Meridian workers in their temporary offices in the chapel at Wigram air force base. Photo / Supplied
Meridian workers in their temporary offices in the chapel at Wigram air force base. Photo / Supplied

A meat packing plant, a wool handling warehouse and a chapel are among some of the unusual locations converted into office space for Christchurch white collar workers ousted from the CBD by the February earthquake.

Share brokers Hamilton Hindin Greene's new premises are above a dinghy and kayak shop in Lincoln Road, Addington and PKF Goldsmith Fox auditors has shifted from Oxford Terrace to the Hellers meat plant at Kaiapoi.

Staff at Industrial Research Limited generously gave up their cafeteria and pool table to provide working space for staff from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Until quite recently Meridian staff were scattered all over town with some working from the chapel at the former Wigram RNZAF base, and others at Wigram Manor, previously the base officers' mess.

Moorhouse Avenue, long the car yard capital of the Garden City, is now hosting at least 500 corporate staff who have taken refuge in hastily refitted warehouses.

Deloitte has an 18 month lease on three buildings behind Paul Kelly Motors on Moorhouse Ave which senior manager Nicholas Runnalls describes as "the new corporate playground" of Christchurch.

"Paul Kelly is selling cars out the front and we're selling accounting and tax services out the back.

"Instead of being in five star corporate offices we have ended up split three ways between the back of Paul Kelly's car yard, what used to be a wool handling operation, and the top floor of Value Cars warehouse next door to Paul Kelly. We have to exit the building to go to the next department."

During the six weeks it took to refit the buildings, Tait Electronics accommodated Deloitte's tax department and Runnalls says this was typical of the cooperation that occurred post-quake.

"People who had space to offer offered it...It was a case of 'well you need a space to work, we have one, so let's make it happen.'"

But many of Deloitte's 95 staff working home felt very isolated and are glad to be back with their colleagues even though they've had to adjust to working in an open plan office.

"We put in a false ceiling to get rid of the cavernous warehouse feel. The buildings have been painted and look and smell new and clean, and that creates a sense of hope in the midst of everything not being perfect."

Deloitte's retrieved its servers and client files from its old offices in Oxford Terrace, but could not remove office furniture because the lift shaft was damaged. Runnells says those retrieval missions were "pretty hairy" and he is glad they are over.

"The power was off, the water had made things pretty grungy and electrical wiring hung from the ceiling. A lot of stuff had tipped over so there was a lot of mess. It's not great climbing up a dark stairwell with a hard hat and a torch."

The five storey Harcourts Grenadier building in Madras Street is due for demolition. CEO of Harcourts Grenadier Christchurch Rob McCormack says more than 100 Harcourts staff are now "hot desking" in Moorhouse Avenue and their situation is not unusual. "A lot of people have moved from very high class offices and grabbed what they could."

McCormack's new office in a converted warehouse will be finished this week. To brighten up the foyer in what was a loading bay he will put one of his classic cars on display and has already installed a large station clock, saved from the Grenadier Café in the his old building.

But McCormack is eager to escape his temporary digs as soon as possible and his goal is to have a new four story building open on his Madras street site by the first anniversary of the February quake.

However Meridian will be in Moorhouse a lot longer, having signed a three year lease on a warehouse converted to accommodate 300 staff unable to return to the company's badly damaged Manchester Street premises.

Bill Highet, Meridian general manager retail, says cramming staff into makeshift offices in places such as the Wigram chapel was less than ideal, and although they showed remarkable resilience, it was important to get them settled in proper accommodation.

"People can cope with those ad hoc temporary arrangements for a while, but it does impact on productivity if you're not comfortable, don't have much elbow room, and you have to find ways of getting across town on roads that are not what they used to be."

Highet says Meridian is committed to keeping its company headquarters in Christchurch and will very likely return to the CBD or somewhere close to it.

Show us your Workspace - a Facebook page set up to allow Christchurch businesses to show off their new and unusual premises.

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