Demolition work is about to start at the fire-hit $703m NZ International Convention Centre where upper-level materials will be removed following the inferno, head contractor Fletcher Construction has announced.
Work is already being carried out at the site where a large team has now been established.
"Approximately 200 workers are now on-site and work will soon begin to remove damaged material from the roof while assessments of the damage continue on the building's services, facade and architectural details such as wall linings, doors etc," a spokesperson said today.
"Planning is under way for removal of damaged materials on some levels. It will still be some weeks before a full timeline for the rebuild is completed. Fletcher Construction is working closely with our client SkyCity and insurers on these plans and we are committed to opening the convention centre as quickly as possible for the benefit of all New Zealanders," the spokesperson said.
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Ward Group, specialists in demolition and recycling, are said to have won the contract although that firm has not confirmed it, nor has Fletcher.
Works could begin next Monday, starting the difficult task of stripping out ruined materials from upper levels and then removing the charred remains from the site, an industry expert said.
Peter Ward of Ward Demolition has refused to comment on the contract and referred inquiries to Fletcher.
But industry sources said site works would initially begin around the top, removing incinerated elements from an extensive area spanning levels five up to level seven.
The vast centre takes up the entire block between Nelson, Hobson, Wellesley and Victoria streets, except for TVNZ and the Albion Hotel.
Ward's other big jobs include Auckland University's 14-level science education building in 2014, Christchurch's earthquake-damaged 28-level Hotel Grand Chancellor and Eden Park's old south stand ready for its 2011 Rugby World Cup rebuild.
On October 22, a ferocious fire broke out on the northwest roof corner of the NZICC and was not extinguished for six days.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand battled high winds on the complex structure, and by October 23, 21 crews were on the scene in a "defence mode", letting the fire burn through the roof.
The blaze was complex and dangerous and resulted in a full evacuation of the SkyCity precinct. Thick toxic smoke enveloped the city, TVNZ was evacuated, roads were closed, traffic diverted, a Civil Defence public health alert was issued for people living and working in the CBD and one firefighter required hospital treatment. A worker's blowtorch was believed to have ignited the fire at 1.15pm on October 22, although no official statements have yet been released on the cause.
Yet just a day after it broke out, Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor and SkyCity Entertainment Group chief executive Graeme Stephens vowed that the centre would be completed and open.
Demolition specialist Alex Burrell said the work was one of New Zealand's biggest deconstruction jobs, possibly worth millions and taking months.
"The programme will have been designed by architects and/or engineers. They will have scheduled it. They will know some of the damage but not all of it. They'll probably find more than they expect as they uncover it," Burrell predicted, speculating that the price could rise once the full extent of damage was discovered.
This morning, workers from Fletcher Construction, Summit Scaffolding and traffic management staff were busy at the site.
Internal lights were on throughout the great exhibition hall, the biggest room within the building, with a 9m stud and covering almost a hectare at 8100sq m.
Glazing has never been erected on the Hobson St side of the exhibition hall and works within were visible today. Lights were also on today in a temporary office established in a Royal Wolf container within the great hall.
The last remaining tower crane on the site, also erected within the great exhibition hall, is standing. That red and white structure's boom was extended before Christmas so goods can be hoisted up to the roof level.
A second tower crane is soon to be erected on the Nelson St side of the NZICC to enable a quicker and more efficient demolition programme, sources said today.
But at the adjoining Horizon Hotel, no work appeared to be being carried out today.
Fletcher Construction's site office has been established in street-level containers on Hobson St. At its northern side, the NZICC presents a somewhat forlorn face, its white protective construction wrap ripped in places, flapping in the breeze. The cloth covers Māori artist Peata Larkin's terracotta wall, one of New Zealand's largest pieces of public art, which was installed before October's fire.
The wall is 105m long, its multi-coloured tiles stretching all the way from Hobson St to Nelson St after a pedestrian laneway where retail outlets are planned to trade.
The undulating geometric pattern was inspired by traditional Māori weaving, a subtle three-dimensional presence that will visually change depending on the angle it is viewed from.
In early November, Fletcher said it was working to determine the fire's effect on delivery timeline and costs, the timing of insurance proceeds and project cash flows, and any potential impact on the construction provisions announced in early 2018. The company confirmed that based on information currently available it remained within those provisions.
At the same time, SkyCity said: "Expect fire and damage to result in material delays to completion dates. Delays likely to impact ability for NZICC to host conferences in 2021. Impact beyond 2021 not yet known. Immediatepriority on recommissioning NZICC carpark for staff and reopening Nelson St entry/exit."
SkyCity has until January 1, 2023 to complete the centre under existing commitments with the Government.