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Student journalists share quake risk with council

Dec 8th, 2011 | By | Category: Latest News, News

LESS than two hours after being told their campus had been closed due to earthquake risk last Thursday, two Whitireia journalism students shared a shaky moment with Wellington City councillors.

The students were at a well-attended policy and strategy meeting when the 4.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the building.
The room went quiet, grips tightened on chairs and anxious looks were exchanged between councillors, students and members of the public, who were present to make submissions.

Chair Andy Foster was the first to break the tension.

“We are going to invest in earthquake strengthening,” he said – a comment which was met by laughter before the meeting continued.

After the meeting he confirmed plans to strengthen the chambers and the adjoining town hall have made progress.

“It was going to be done throughout 2016 and 2017, but it’s been brought forward to somewhere between 2013 and 2016.”

Earlier in the day, media spokesperson for the council, Richard Maclean, said there had been talk about getting some basic remedial work done over the upcoming Christmas break.

However, Councillor Foster says the work will all be done at once and there are many arrangements to be made before the strengthening can go ahead.

“We will have to work out how to keep the council in operation. It’s a very big exercise, it can’t be done with a snap of your fingers.”

The cost for the work has been estimated at $30 million for strengthening the buildings, with a further $6 million for moving and leasing temporary space for normal operations.

“You and I, as taxpayers will be paying for it,” says Councillor Foster.

“The formal draft plan will be decided in March, as part of the Long Term Plan.

“Then there will be formal consultation with the public in April and May.”

He says the closure of the town hall for the duration of the work, which could take up to two years, will mean the loss of a significant venue.

Among other things, a home will have to be found for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Work was done to strengthen the building in 1991, but since then building code standards have changed and are likely to become tighter when the findings of the Royal Commission into the Canterbury earthquake are released.

“A message from Christchurch, very, very clearly, is that even in a so called moderate earthquake, some buildings will collapse,” says Councillor Foster.

And while primary consideration is given to the fact lives are at risk, there are other factors to consider.

“ In some cases, we don’t just want to save the people, we want to save the building.

“The Christchurch cathedral… was just heartbreaking. It’s part of people’s identity.”

Wellington City Council has already strengthened some of its iconic buildings, including the Embassy and St James theatres,

Ensuring the safety of privately owned historic buildings could be difficult, as the high costs of upgrades have to be met by landlords.

The media school run by Whitireia Polytechnic, in the historic Working Man’s Club in Cuba St, is one such building. The cost of repairs are estimated to be $500 000.

Councillor Foster acknowledges how off-putting the cost of strengthening work is to landlords and says suggestions have been made as to how to offset the expense.

These include being able to write off some or all of the amount against taxes, or delaying value-related rates rises for a period of up to 10 years.

These ideas and others will be included in discussions about the Long Term Plan.



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