University buildings vulnerable in a quake

A further four University of Otago buildings have been found to be prone to damage in the event of a major earthquake.

The latest buildings assessed as being earthquake-prone, as defined in the Building Act 2004, were the arts building, the Property Services building and the gymnasium and priory buildings at Aquinas College.

The Scott building at the Dunedin School of Medicine had also earlier been identified earthquake-prone - which means less than 34% of new building standard (NBS) for earthquake strength - and had yet to be strengthened.

Otago University property services director Barry MacKay said in a statement that each of the buildings - including the Scott building - were being assessed by engineers and plans for strengthening work were being prepared. The result of the arts building assessment came as a surprise after a previous assessment identified the building as being 50% of NBS.

''Given the importance of this building and the problems with spalling concrete, it was decided to computer model its seismic strength. This produced a seismic assessment of 28% of NBS.''

A peer-review of the second assessment was under way, he said.

None of the buildings would be evacuated, as the university's seismic strengthening policy - which took effect last October - stated that only buildings found to be less than 15% of NBS had to be vacated.

The policy also stated that all buildings found to be less than 34% of NBS would be prioritised for strengthening to ''at least 67% NBS''.

Mr MacKay said strengthening of the gymnasium and priory buildings at Aquinas would probably be carried out over the summer holiday period later this year.

The latest assessment results come after the university last March unveiled a $50 million earthquake-strengthening programme - to be completed by 2019.

This programme included ''detailed'' earthquake assessments of the university's buildings.

Mr MacKay said 78 buildings out of a total of 94 had been assessed so far and, of those, seven had been rated as earthquake-prone. Two of those buildings had already been strengthened - the west wing of Cumberland College last year and Linton House at Carrington College over the recent Christmas holiday period.

Strengthening at Cumberland cost $53,000 and the cost of work at Linton House was yet to be finalised but was expected to be a similar figure.

About $735,000 out of a total budget of $1.5 million had been spent on the ''seismic assessment programme'' to date.

- vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz