Seven courthouses, including Oamaru’s historic stone one, have closed for earthquake strengthening.
“None of our buildings are more risky than they were last week or 10 years ago, but we now have information from experts that quantifies the risk and the remedial work required and that this work can’t be done while buildings are occupied.”
Before the Canterbury earthquakes this might have been regarded as an over reaction but since February 22nd the safety of buildings is being taken a lot more seriously.
But how far do we go in making buildings safe and who will pay for it?
A couple of weeks ago Jim Hopkins, Waitaki District’s deputy mayor, highlighted the problem:
Given that New Zealand is basically a head-on collision between two tectonic plates, the threat of earthquakes and the risk of building collapse is universal, inescapable – and fearfully expensive to fix. . .
This much is clear. The Royal Commission will recommend stricter codes. It’s got no option. And the government – whoever it is – will adopt those recommendations, if only to reassure the insurers. It’s got no option, either. And that has implications everywhere, except possibly in Auckland, where only scattered outbreaks of architecture have been detected. But in the provinces, where the population is, at best, static or, at worst, declining and the demand for new commercial space is as hard to detect as the pulse in a rock, the cost of strengthening buildings will simply be too great. They’ll come down or be left to crumble. . .
To paraphrase that famous quote, “I have seen the future and it isn’t there”, what we’ll have is transformation by demolition, with much of the country’s architectural character, charm and history reduced to rubble because we simply haven’t got enough people or money to do anything else.
Oamaru was supposed to be a city. It had a port, good farmland, was close to the gold fields and far from the land wars.
Settlers arrived, used the local stone and built grand buildings. The gold ran out, peace was restored and the promised city was never realised.
That might well have saved many of the buildings which weren’t knocked down and replaced with concrete and mirror glass. It was only relatively recently that people realised what a wonderful asset the collection of grand, old – by New Zealand standards – stone buildings the town had and moved to preserve and restore and find new uses for them.
The courthouse is one of them. If it’s not up to standard how much more of the townscape is in the same category?
Some of the buildings are privately owned and the cost of strengthening them will be the owners.
Many others are owned by the District Council which is in no position to spend many millions of dollars on them.
The thought of all those beautiful buidlings being demolished is horrifying, so too is the thought that they might kill people. But how could a small town possibly pay for the work that will be needed to bring make them quake-proof?