Quake risk prompts council staff move

By Don Farmer -
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The old ANZ Bank on Queen Street is now council offices.
The old ANZ Bank on Queen Street is now council offices.

Thirty Masterton District Council staff have been moved out of the Municipal Building on Chapel Street for safety reasons and the building closed to the public.

Consumer Services staff were uprooted over the weekend and were yesterday settling into their new workplace, the old ANZ bank building at 161 Queen Street where they will likely to be for a year or more as structural engineers determine what level of strengthening work the MDC building will need to bring it up to new building standards.

Council chief executive Pim Borren said yesterday an initial engineer's assessment had determined the building was "potentially worse" than the Town Hall which sits behind it and had come in at well below 34 per cent compliance.

For that reason staff were immediately mustered and over the weekend the shift was made to the old bank building, owned by Percy McFadzean, and for which the council has now secured a one-by-one year lease.

Staff housed in the northern end of the cluster of municipal buildings will stay put as that part of the complex was built in 1989, whereas the evacuated part of the MDC building is just over 100 years old.

Mr Borren said it is unclear just now as to which building council meetings will now be held but tomorrow's Policy and Finance meeting will be the last to be held in the Frank Cody Lounge until the long term fate of the MDC building is finally determined.

About $2.5 million was set aside in an earthquake fund for council-owned buildings but Mr Borren said it would be "crystal ball gazing" to even punt on how much money would be needed to strengthen the building which would need to reach 60-70 per cent compliance to be viable.

Should a final structural report show the building could not be strengthened then the council "would have to consider its options," Mr Borren said.

He said that could include considering the future governance of Wairarapa if councils throughout the district amalgamate.

"Once the final report is out it is likely councillors will seek a second assessment, a second opinion if you like, before a decision is made as to whether the work should be put out to tender."

Mr Borren did not rule out demolition of the MDC building if that became a necessity saying perhaps the façade could be retained.

In the 1942 earthquake the building was severely damaged, with the facade parting company and falling to the ground.

The building had been vacated and it was about nine years before it could be reoccupied having been strengthened.

Part of the reason for that long delay was the earthquake happened in the midst of World War 11 and projects such as the Municipal Building work was put on the back burner.

The office of the mayor Lyn Patterson will be located in the old bank but Mr Borren's office will be in the northern part of the Chapel Street complex which is considered safe.

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