Quake rules could affect historic monastery

5:57 am on 26 January 2017

Part of Wellington's famed St Gerard's monastery could be caught up in the latest government crackdown on unsafe buildings.

St Gerard's Church and Monastery

St Gerard's monastery towers over Wellington's Oriental Bay and has been yellow-stickered for years. Photo: 123RF

The Government has ordered unreinforced masonry facades and parapets to be strengthened within a year.

It said 300 buildings were affected. It would not name them, but monastery staff said they could be affected.

The red brick St Gerard's monastery towers over Wellington's Oriental Bay. It has been yellow-stickered for years.

It faces a $10 million bill for earthquake strengthening. It is trying to avert paying it by commissioning a new seismic assessment and, hopefully, get a higher rating.

The church that forms part of the building could become a target for the government's new crackdown regardless.

"It would mean that we have only got 12 months to reinforce the church," former MP and chairman of the St Gerard's Maintenance and Restoration Trust Gordon Copeland said.

"That (church) is simply masonry, with some strengthening already, but it would still be classified as an unreinforced masonry building."

Mr Copeland said he wanted to study the new rules further. The future was uncertain.

Experts said if the new crackdown focused on buildings that towered over busy streets, rather than a partially separate building on a hillside, it could save the monastery.

"So many Wellingtonians say to me, 'Gosh, we would hate to see Wellington without this building, it's up there and it is beautiful'."

The 300 buildings are likely to be those on Cuba and Riddiford streets in Wellington or Jackson Street in Petone.

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A file photo of Cuba Street in Wellington: Engineers have told the government older buildings in commercial and retail areas are a risk in another big earthquake. Photo: Flickr / Wellington City Council

Strengthening will stop parapets and masonry falling

The Wellington head of the Property Council, Mike Cole, said the new regime would stop parapets or masonry from falling on people during another shake.

"It may be a little bit of steel and some timber strapped back to stop facades from falling out," he said.

"You may well line it with plywood, with either some steel or some timber helping to do the job, and then some straps anchored back into the bulk of the building."

These techniques would not fix Wellington's long-term vulnerability to earthquakes, he said.

"It is a temporary measure to try to avoid some of the things that happened in Christchurch, where serious aftershocks caused some of the sides of buildings and parapets to collapse.

"This is purely to try to stop the parapets collapsing and the facades coming out, it is not a permanent solution."

Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith said the risks of big aftershocks from the Kaikōura earthquake were eight times the historic norm. It would take three years for that risk to subside to average levels.

This new measure was not perfect, but New Zealand had to do what was practically possible to improve public safety.

Dr Smith said unreinforced masonry killed 39 people during the 22 February, 2011 Canterbury earthquake.

Reducing the chances of a repetition would be expensive.

A special fund from the Government and councils would pay up to $15,000 to strengthen a facade and $10,000 to tie back a parapet.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment warned this latest measure would not stop the need for thorough, comprehensive strengthening of buildings. The cost of that is expected to be huge.

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