RSA held service outside memorial due to bell tower safety fears

3:47 pm on 7 July 2020

The Returned and Services Association (RSA) has resorted to holding services outside the National War Memorial as fresh assessments found the strengthened Carillon tower is unsafe.

Carillon Bells will be heard regularly at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park after 3 years of being restored.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

As RNZ reported last week, engineering reports show the bell frame could fail and tonnes of bells could fall and kill anyone inside.

Despite two years of work on the frame and bell refurbishment from 2016 to 2018, there remain three key weaknesses that have rendered the tower at the National War Memorial earthquake-prone.

It has been closed since February, and faces a deadline to be fully fixed by May 2022.

"That's very sad," RSA national president BJ Clark told Morning Report. He lamented the silence of the Carillon bells whose ringing "raises the hairs on the back of the neck".

The RSA was forced to hold a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Korean War in a marquee in Pukeahu Park last Wednesday.

"It was actually a lovely service," Clark said. "Though, that said, not as nice as it is to stand inside that wonderful area of the Hall of Memories surrounded by the history of military service to this country.

"And no bells ... those bells when they're ringing, what a wonderful sound.

"It's a bit like The Last Post, it raises the old hairs on the back of the neck."

It was disappointing the seismic strengthening had not been sorted out sooner, he said.

After a basic engineering assessment in 2012, three years of strengthening work from 2012 to 2015 upgraded the Hall of Memories to 100 percent of earthquake code.

This was followed by the 2016-18 work on the bells, but the total $3m of upgrades failed to address weaknesses in the bell frame, upper tower and lower tower structure.

A detailed assessment was completed only in April, confirming these weaknesses, which had been pointed towards in 2011.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has said it was "comfortable" about its decision to reopen the tower in mid-2018, even though it did not have a full sesimic assessment at that time.

BJ Clark said he was not looking over his shoulder at having been exposed to risks in the meantime.

"I'm thankful that nothing happened.

"If there is a decision that was made [to reopen the tower] that was incorrect, I'm sure someone will be asked to explain."

The ministry is drawing up plans with engineers on how to finally fix the tower, which is how the Hall is accessed.

It has said nothing has gone wrong with its seismic upgrades which were "part of a much wider programme of earthquake strengthening and refurbishment of the two buildings".

Clark said it was a "bit mysterious" why the ministry did not check the bellframe's strength for eight years, as engineers had advised it to.

"I don't know the reasoning behind it, I don't want to be overly critical," he said.

"Whatever is the result, it's disappointing that we're at this point now, where it's closed, where we don't have the bells ringing around Pukeahu.

"There has been a lot of money already spent on that area ... therefore, I would expect that everything will be done to ensure that the repairs are made.

"It is extremely important - our Unknown Warrior lays there.

"If you look at the crowds that turn up there on Anzac Day, it's an integral part of that remembrance, and it must continue to be so."

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