Spotlight goes on future of quake-risk buildings

By John Maslin

Immediate action to take care of the safety of staff and the public in a number of Wanganui District Council buildings is now being widened to look in more detail at some of those properties deemed to be earthquake risks.

Initial assessments in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes have given 50 council properties a rating of less than 57 per cent of the National Building Standards (NBS).

Almost half of them have a rating of less than 16 per cent and some as low as just 5 per cent.

Among those with the lowest rating are the Sarjeant Gallery, Community House in Ridgway St, the Whanganui Regional Museum, along with the Royal Wanganui Opera House, the Alexander Library and the top floor of the council's headquarters in Guyton St.

A council meeting this week signed off continuing investigation into seismic upgrades of the Opera House, War Memorial Hall and council offices. Officials will also work on a plan to shift the entrance to the museum to the opposite end of that building, as well housing staff in temporary buildings on the carpark.

But Community House in Ridgway St poses other concerns.

Council property manager Rowan McGregor said the three-storey building was currently returning about $80,000 a year in rents.

The community agencies which were original tenants on the first and second floor have now vacated the premises because of its very low earthquake rating and moved into the former Post Office building across the street.

Now one of the remaining tenants, Mediaworks Wanganui, which operates broadcast studios on the top floor, is looking elsewhere.

General manager Craig Hanford said broadcasting would continue from the current site but the company was "actively looking" for new premises.

If that tenant goes it will leave only a few retail outlets on the ground floor, fronting both Victoria Ave and Ridgway St.

Mr McGregor said any feasibility study on the building's future needed to look at either a full upgrade, a partial upgrade, demolition or sale.

Like the Sarjeant, Community House has a 5 per cent NBS rating and estimated costs of upgrading to acceptable levels have been set at more than $6 million.

The property was bought using harbour endowment money and aimed at providing premises for non-profit community agencies. But Mr McGregor said that with them gone, it was "operationally surplus".

He said finding a buyer would be difficult because of the "huge amount" of work required to bring it up to standard.

He said other issues included the position of the building on a busy central city intersection, with a lot of pedestrian and motor traffic going past it.

Mr McGregor told councillors that while there were 50 at-risk buildings in council control, that number could shrink or grow slightly when more detailed engineering assessments were undertaken. These are more detailed than the initial evaluations.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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