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More strengthening needed, to secure Carillon’s 74 bells

Report from RNZ by Phil Pennington
Bells that weigh up to 12 tonnes inside the Carillon tower at the National War Memorial in Wellington are at risk of falling on people. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage is today expected to release a detailed seismic assessment that shows this could happen in an earthquake.

“If an element of the bell-frames failed, there is a risk that one of the bells, or other material, could fall into the foyer of the Carillon Tower which is the main entry to the National War Memorial,” it said in a statement. “This could pose a significant risk to anyone in the foyer at the time.”

The ministry was first warned in 2011 that the bells could fall down, by the same engineering firm, Dunning Thornton.

It is now making “alternative arrangements” for national commemorations to be held within the wider Pukeahu National War Memorial Park while strengthening work goes on.

The ministry had part of the steel bell frame replaced during years of upgrade works from 2012-18 – but not all of it. This included two years spent pulling apart the 15,000-part bell instrument, refurbishment, replacing badly corroded head bolts, then reinstalling the entire assembly. But the ministry failed to replace some of the bell-frame angle braces.

Now, the bell frame has been rated at just 15 percent of standard.

The engineers said in 2011 the ministry should get a detailed assessment done of the frame; it did not begin this till August 2019.

There was nothing to say there was any risk to anyone immediately outside the 50-metre-high tower, the ministry said today.

However, the seismic assessment completed in April, also shows the lower part of the bell tower is earthquake-prone at 25-30 percent of New Building Standard..

RNZ previously reported this after questioning the ministry about a summary of the seismic assessment it released earlier under the Official Information Act.

The tower has been closed since February, and with it the Hall of Memories – which is 100 percent NBS – but the Pukeahu park remains open. The ministry now has less than two years to fully and finally strengthen the whole building.

News from MCH
Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage has today released online the final detailed seismic assessment on the Carillon Tower at the National War Memorial in Wellington. The final report completed in April found the Carillon Tower to have an overall seismic rating of 15% of the New Building Standard, confirming it as an earthquake prone building.

The National War Memorial has been closed to staff and the public since the end of February when Manatū Taonga received a draft of the detailed seismic assessment from its engineers. The wider Pukeahu National War Memorial Park and the Queen Elizabeth II Education Centre remain open.

“The National War Memorial is central to remembrance in Aotearoa, we know that people will feel its closure acutely, particularly around key anniversaries and commemorations,” says Manatū Taonga Deputy Chief Executive Tamsin Evans.

“The seismic rating was lower than had been expected based on previous advice from engineers. The main issue identified in the detailed seismic assessment is around the internal bell-frames of the Carillon Tower and how they would perform in an earthquake. These steel frames support the 74 bells making up the Carillon.

“If an element of the bell-frames failed, there is a risk that one of the bells, or other material, could fall into the foyer of the Carillon Tower which is the main entry to the National War Memorial. This could pose a significant risk to anyone in the foyer at the time.

“And while there is no information to suggest the Carillon Tower poses a risk to anyone immediately outside the building, in the event of an earthquake people are advised to move away and Drop, Cover and Hold.

“Our focus now is on making the necessary plans to get the National War Memorial strengthened and open again, so it can continue to be the place of solace, remembrance and reflection it has been to generations of New Zealanders.

“Alternative arrangements are being made for national commemorations to be held within the wider Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in the meantime.

“This latest detailed seismic assessment is part of a much wider programme of earthquake strengthening and refurbishment of the two buildings which make up the National War Memorial – the Carillon Tower, which opened in 1932 and the Hall of Memories, which was added in 1964.

“This strengthening and refurbishment work began in 2011 and the final deadline for completing all the work is 30 May 2022. This timeline is set by Wellington City Council in accordance with legislation concerning earthquake prone buildings,” says Tamsin Evans.