Earthquake: Rotorua Museum closed after cracks found

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Rotorua Museum of Art and History has closed as a precaution after cracks were found following this week's earthquake.
Rotorua Museum of Art and History has closed as a precaution after cracks were found following this week's earthquake.

Rotorua Museum has been closed as a precautionary measure following the appearance of cracks in part of the building after this week's earthquake, according to a statement from the Rotorua Lakes Council.

"There is no immediate threat but we are erring on the side of caution to ensure the safety of our staff and public isn't put at risk," said Rotorua Museum Director Stewart Brown.

The museum, one of the most iconic and photographed buildings in the country, is a category one heritage building which is more than 100 years old. The cracks are confined to the older, middle portion of the building, which includes the entrance, mezzanine and café.

The newer wings of the museum are not affected.

Engineers were contacted on Monday following quakes during Sunday night and the museum was immediately advised to close the basement as a precaution. Engineers conducted an on-site initial assessment on Tuesday and their Rapid Evaluation Safety Assessment was received on Wednesday, confirming their recommendation regarding the basement and recommending the number of visitors in the affected part of the building be limited.

"It would be very difficult for us to manage this so we are taking a prudent approach and have made the decision to close the building, in the interests of safety," said Mr Brown.

"The building has always had cracks but more appeared after this week's quake.

These are confined to the middle portion of the building."

An extensive earthquake risk assessment will be conducted next week.

"It's standard practice following quakes of the size we experienced this week to get an assessment done and then to have further investigations undertaken if needed. After Monday night's earthquake we got the engineers in first thing Tuesday."

Mr Brown said museum staff were busy today contacting accommodation providers, schools and tour and event organisers who have bookings, museum volunteers and other stakeholders to advise them of the closure.

Rotorua Lakes Council undertook earthquake risk assessments of its buildings in 2011 following the introduction of new regulations prompted by the Christchurch earthquakes.

Several council buildings were identified as being at risk, including the older, central part of the museum which dates back to 1908.

As part of council's earthquake strengthening work programme, engineers were already scheduled to be at the museum next Monday to undertake a detailed seismic assessment to further understand the level of risk and develop a plan for strengthening work.

Meanwhile, preparation for earthquake strengthening of the council's iSite on Fenton Street is underway following the previous precautionary closure of the clock tower part of the building.

The historic part of the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre has also previously been identified as being an earthquake risk and a detailed seismic assessment is underway there. Cracks in plaster on walls in the historic part of the centre following this week's earthquake were assessed as superficial and posing no threat.

Visual checks have been made of other council buildings and facilities this week and no damage found.

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