Council acts to safeguard its buildings

By John Maslin

Some significant changes have been made in a few Wanganui District Council buildings and more will be made as the council acts on earthquake-risk assessments.

The decisions have been driven by the WDC chief executive officer Kevin Ross under terms of the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSE) and follow an earthquake-risk inventory of council property.

In a few council-owned buildings that scored at the lowest level of the assessment, tenants have been told they must quit the premises - and their leases - without any penalty. That has already happened in at least one property.

The council has struck a special earthquake-prone buildings rate to secure $20 million to upgrade its buildings.

Other measures happening now include buying safety furniture and creating safe refuges inside some buildings.

The highest-profile building is the Sarjeant Gallery. Debate has been around the planned strengthening and extension of the gallery and the need to temporarily relocate gallery stock. The council is now investigating the lease or purchase of a property in Taupo Quay for that purpose.

Council officers still have to draw together what they said was a "huge amount of information" before final decisions are made on some buildings.

Rowan McGregor, WDC property manager, said the council was also looking at relocating the entrance to the Whanganui Regional Museum to the opposite end of the building (Cameron Terrace).

The existing entrance, facing the War Memorial Hall forecourt, is part of the structure built in 1928 and only registers 6 per cent on the New Building Standard (NBS). With such a low rating, Mr McGregor said it was "prudent" to get the staff and public away from that zone. The Cameron Terrace end of the museum, built in 1965, has a 30 per cent rating.

It will also mean having temporary buildings on the carpark behind the museum for staff. Indicative costs are about $180,000.

Estimates to strengthen the Royal Wanganui Opera House are currently at $2.7 million and the plan is to upgrade the building by June 2014. However, new assessment methods for timber buildings could raise that earthquake rating considerably. Short-term action in the building includes creating a safe refuge for staff.

And safety furniture and refuges were being considered for the Alexander Library in Queen's Park.

The old grandstand at Cooks Gardens is tagged a risk, but the officers have suggested closing the stand for other than the few "full house" events during the year, such as Heartland rugby games.

Upgrading the War Memorial Hall, from its present 22 per cent of NBS to 58 per cent, has been estimated at $2.2 million, and funding options will be looked at next year.

Meanwhile, short-term fixes there again include safety furniture and refuges.

The council's own headquarters in Guyton St get mostly a pass mark, except the top third floor, which is rated at 57 per cent and is currently home for the Civil Defence.

Cost of upgrading that area is estimated at $200,000, so officers suggest a short-term solution of moving the CD operation into the council chamber in the event of an earthquake.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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