Wellington Scoop

City Council orders 80 CBD buildings to be checked for earthquake safety

News from WCC
The Wellington City Council has this week written to the owners of around eighty buildings requiring them to undertake detailed independent building assessments and to share them with the Council.

The Council’s City Recovery Manager, Mike Mendonca, says the initiative is one of several being taken to ensure the city’s safety. This additional information requirement is informed by preliminary advice from a panel of experts investigating the damage to Statistics House in the 14 November earthquake.

“At this stage, we are conducting a targeted assessment to form a complete picture of the current state of the city’s buildings. Some buildings may have incomplete records due to previous works or repairs, and we want to make sure our planning is based on the most up-to-date information.”

Letters have been sent to the owners of buildings that have been identified as having certain attributes that need to be checked.

Mr Mendonca says the City Council has decided to release the list of buildings due to the public interest.

However he stresses that the great majority of them did not appear, from initial inspections, to have had more than minor internal damage in the November quake.

“Some of the buildings on the list have been damaged and are already closed. So far, however, we have no evidence of any need to evacuate any other buildings. We do not expect to find any unsafe buildings we are not already aware of, but the Council is taking this precautionary approach and being prudent.”

Most of the properties are reinforced-concrete buildings of up to 15 storeys, built in the past four decades, and many of them on softer reclaimed land or on ridgelines.

A detailed engineer’s assessment looks closely at these features to assess how they performed in the quake and will help determine if further strengthening work is needed.

“This targeted assessment programme focuses on issues specific to the 14 November earthquake sequence. The long, rolling nature of the quake caused certain types of buildings to experience more stress than we first thought, and aftershocks may add incremental stress. We want to take a closer look at certain structural elements to understand how these buildings managed the quake and aftershocks.”

These assessments are more detailed than the visual inspections undertaken of most buildings so far and are likely to require lifting of carpet tiles, celling panels, or wall linings to gain access.

Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle says the latest inspections initiative is a positive step that will enable the Council to fully assess buildings and identify any risk to public safety.

Mr Mendonca recommends tenants and businesses speak with their building owner if they have concerns. The Council is requesting building owners acknowledge receipt of letters by 20 January and complete the assessments by 10 February.

The City Council’s request for information is a formal demand under new powers granted under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. The cost of assessments and of maintaining safe buildings is the responsibility of owners.

In terms of the requirements of the CDEM Act, letters will also be sent to the owners and tenants of properties immediately neighbouring the targeted buildings. The letters will notify the neighbours that an inspection of the building is required, but will not seek any other action.

Under the legislation, a copy of the notification letter must be posted in a prominent place in the targeted building, such as an entranceway or foyer.

Media reports this morning have headlined the news that the Wellington City Council is ordering further checks on the safety of 80 buildings in the CBD.

RNZ News reports that Mike Mendonca says the council had been happy to take up the Ministry’s comments and put them into effect.

“The ministry has provided us with technical advice around aspects of certain buildings. We need to take that seriously. … We need to assure ourselves and the people of Wellington that our building stock is safe.”

He told RNZ’s Morning Report: “We will be looking for specific things that will require engineers to look under carpets, into corners of buildings, perhaps lift ceiling tiles and in some cases look behind gib.” It would not be difficult for owners to have their engineers do extra inspections.

The DomPost quotes Mike Mendonca as saying that the buildings to be checked are all between four and 16 floors high, made out of reinforced concrete, with precast concrete slab floors. The owners would be told to undertake “more invasive” testing of their buildings, which were spread throughout the CBD.

Here is a list of the buildings to be checked: