Doc to fund work on hut

University of Otago geography student Jack Steele (21) arrives at the 65-year-old Aspiring hut, in the Mt Aspiring National Park, ahead of the University of Otago tramping club ''southern hoedown'' at the weekend. The hut needs earthquake strengthening. Photo by Mark Price.
University of Otago geography student Jack Steele (21) arrives at the 65-year-old Aspiring hut, in the Mt Aspiring National Park, ahead of the University of Otago tramping club ''southern hoedown'' at the weekend. The hut needs earthquake strengthening. Photo by Mark Price.
The Aspiring hut in Mt Aspiring National Park has joined the list of buildings in need of earthquake-strengthening work.

The 38-bunk hut is next to the Cascade Stream in the West Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka.

It is at the end of a popular two-hour walk from the Raspberry Flat car park.

The hut was built by members of the New Zealand Alpine Club in 1949 and club general manager Sam Newton, of Christchurch, told the Otago Daily Times the walls were made from river rocks cemented together and they would not withstand ''much of a shake''.

According to a report by MWH engineer Derek Chinn in April 2013, the hut has a ''number of deficiencies'' including a lack of bracing and ''tie down'' in the roof and a ''lack of seismic resistance in the stacked stone walls''.

Mr Chinn considered there was the risk of collapse of the stone walls causing the roof to collapse.

His opinion was the seismic resistance was ''less than 33% of current code requirements and thus the building is likely to be earthquake prone''.

However, under the Queenstown Lakes District Council's policy on earthquake-prone buildings no specific upgrade was required.

The council had also not required the club or the Department of Conservation to place notices on the building or to close it.

''The hut is not alone in being earthquake prone; there are many similar unreinforced masonry buildings in the Otago area,'' Mr Chinn said.

He proposed building a new structure inside the stone walls to support the roof and protect occupants during an earthquake while allowing the stone walls to fall outwards.

''This approach is considered suitable in this back-country location, however it may not be acceptable in a location where people are likely to be immediately outside the building.''

Mr Chinn said the work would bring the hut up to 100% of the current code standard.

Mr Newton said strengthening work was expected to cost between $250,000 and $300,000.

''And that's the cheap option.''

The club had been about to start a fundraising effort called ''Save Aspiring Hut'' but Mr Newton said the Department of Conservation had now committed to funding the work.

''We're no longer looking for a fundraising manager.

''Doc has come to the party, which is great.''

Doc conservation partnership manager in Wanaka Phil Tisch confirmed this week the department had been approached by the club and had agreed to pay for remedial work.

It was his understanding it would need to be done within the next five years.

The Aspiring hut is one of the busiest in the region and on Saturday night was being used by 60 members of the University of Otago Tramping Club for their annual ball.

The income the hut generates helps fund the running of the higher-altitude French Ridge and Colin Todd huts.

Mr Newton said there was a ''huge amount of sentimental value'' in the hut, although club members did not use it.

''It's not a climbing hut any more.

''It really is just used by backpackers and front-country trampers; day walkers even, or overnighters.

''But certainly our members are very fond of it.''

Mr Newton said if the club had not been able to raise the money itself, the cheapest option would have been to ''put a bulldozer through it''.

''Which would have been tragic.

''But it would also have left Doc with a big problem in that they would have had to replace it with something far more expensive.''

Mr Newton said the club did not have concerns about the earthquake risk at its other huts.

mark.price@odt.co.nz