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Quake-risk facade looms above Cuba St playground

Apr 30th, 2012 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

 A POPULAR playground in Cuba Mall could be crushed under falling masonry in a major earthquake.

The playground sits in front of the old Working Mens’ Club Building, which was evacuated as an earthquake risk in December last year.

The building was home to the Whitireia Media Training Centre, and was thought to be safe after earlier strengthening work was done, but was last year found to still pose a risk.

Staff and students at the school were evacuated on December 8, and were given a worrying shock when a small earthquake occurred the same day.

Wellington City Council says it is working with building owners to lower the risks from facades, but progress is slow because owners are having trouble funding strengthening projects.

There could be many such areas at risk in central Wellington, as facades and awnings are common on the older stone buildings that populate the CBD.

But which areas and buildings in particular can be difficult to find out, as risk notices and maps refer only to the building as a whole.

While lists of at-risk buildings are available on the council website  and have been converted to maps such as these ones by the Dominion Post , they do not specify exactly why the building is dangerous.

There does not seem to be much evidence that the council is working on the risks posed by facades, says Cuba St retailer Clare Bowden.

“The council already have the powers to do more than they are about it, and it’s a shame that they’re not,” she says.

Ms Bowden, owner of MANdatory menswear on Cuba Mall, has worked in the area for 15 years, and says she has instructed her staff not to run outside if an earthquake occurs.

Much of the footage from the Christchurch quake showed buildings with collapsed front walls and fallen awnings.

“It’s easy to have seen the footage of Cashel Mall and translate that to Cuba Mall, but it needs to be put in perspective that this is a Wellington-wide problem”

In a report released in February, the council said there was not a lot it could do under current legislation about parapets, chimneys, verandas and such features on non- earthquake prone buildings.

The council has sent submissions to the Royal Commission into the Christchurch earthquake and the Department of Buildings and Housing asking for a possible amendment to the Building Act that would allow the council to enforce work on such features under current policies, and that securing such features would be a legal requirement.

Council spokesperson Richard MacLean says the council is working on ways to allow building owners to work purely on such facades, to lower the costs involved.

He called the current situation a Catch-22, where buildings owners can not get bank loans to do such work, as the building can not be insured until the work is done.

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