Extra engineers brought in for Wellington quake checks

8:28 pm on 20 December 2016

Engineers are being brought in from outside Wellington to help meet a fresh demand to get buildings checked after the Kaikōura earthquake

Defence House, Aitken St, Wellington

The council's target list includes all the high-profile affected properties, such as Defence House (pictured), the Asteron Centre, Lambton Quay's Vodafone building, Revera House and the Wellington Central Library. Photo: Creative Commons

Wellington City Council has ordered the owners of 80 buildings to carry out more invasive earthquake testing following the 14 November 7.8-magnitude quake.

The checks are expected to cost up to $5000 each and must be done by 10 February.

Look at the full list of buildings here.

Following the announcement, engineering firms in the region have been bringing in staff from other offices throughout the country.

Spencer Holmes structural and civil engineer Peter Smith said he was confident there would be enough staff to do the checks.

Some building owners may have already done the required inspections and simply needed to share that with the council, he said.

"It depends on the initial briefing from the building owner as to whether it was a once look over or whether it was a more detailed review.

"Engineers that they've used in the past will be familiar with the building and to take the next step should not be a significant time problem," he said.

Meanwhile the Property Council, which represents commercial building owners, said it did not expect proprieters to have problems paying for the new assessments.

The council's Wellington president, Mike Cole, said it was prudent of Wellington City Council to ask building owners to share the latest engineering reports.

"Public safety is paramount, so absolutely no issue with it.

"For the 80 buildings for instance that have been identified in this round, you're talking professional property owners' groups, funds, etcetera so I don't think that should be too much of an issue with the costs associated with it."

Mr Cole said owners of smaller, older buildings may need financial help reinforcing façades.

Intercontinental Hotel, Wellington

The InterContinental Hotel is one of 80 buildings which will undergo extra inspections. Photo: Googe Street View

The council's move follows findings from an investigation into damage to Statistics House on Wellington waterfront, which had revealed risk factors, including the size of buildings as well as their methods of construction.

Buildings to be checked are:

  • Reinforced-concrete frame structures that have precast concrete flooring
  • Typically eight to 15 storeys, but as low as four floors for highly-flexible frames
  • Sited on soft soil or ground features that might amplify ground shaking

Wellington's recovery manager, Mike Mendonca, said the council would not be releasing the results of the inspections.

The initial assessments would take a day or two to complete.

Not all owners were happy about it but generally they understood what needed to be done, he said.

"We actually apologise to building owners for the haste with which this came out," he said.

"Ideally we would have taken a little bit more time and been able to contact them all individually and personally. Given the intense public interest in this, we didn't have the opportunity to do that," he said.

It was unlikely any of the buildings would be need to be evacuated, he said.

"A small number of these buildings are already closed. We've decided to leave those on the list for the sake of transparency," he said.

Auckland University engineering professor Ken Elwood, director of QuakeCoRE, said engineers would be looking for damage to pre-cast concrete floors, building frames and the support structures where the two met.

"Based on past testing and experimental work, it's known that some of these support where the pre-cast panels sit can get stressed during a significant earthquake," he said. "For these five to 15 storey buildings this was a pretty significant earthquake."

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