Building repair advice rejected

Owners of John Wickliffe House say the building has 'concrete cancer', which is rusting...
Owners of John Wickliffe House say the building has 'concrete cancer', which is rusting reinforcing steel and causing safety issues. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
The company that owns John Wickliffe House has baulked at the idea of being forced to spend what it says is five times more than it planned to repair the building.

It forcefully rejected the idea at a Dunedin City Council resource consent hearing yesterday, in which it emerged the building had ''concrete cancer'', which was rusting steel reinforcing and causing safety issues.

Plaza Property Trust counsel Phil Page was responding to a suggestion the company remove aggregate from the building's panels, then apply a new material that looked the same.

''You can't tell us to repair it in that way,'' Mr Page said.

''That just isn't even on the table. We won't do it.''

The reaction came after the company said its application to repair and ''paint'' the building was not about painting at all.

Instead, it needed a sealing compound to cover repairs it had to make.

But Stephen Macknight, the structural engineer who restored buildings including

Consultancy House, overlooking Queens Garden, and the Donald Reid Building in the warehouse precinct, said the panels at the heart of the issue could be repaired in a way that would return them close to their original state.

The hearing followed an application for resource consent to repair and paint the building, which is in a protected townscape precinct zone.

The company's planned to paint the concrete panels - which are covered with exposed and polished West Coast serpentine stone - black and grey to cover up what it says will otherwise be visual repairs it intends to make.

The company's plans have already drawn a strong response from five opponents, who said such a paint job would be out of place with the original design of the building and with its surroundings.

Despite an application with limited detail, the company arrived at the hearing with an architect and an array of specialists.

Mr Page said the company was ''responding to a problem that will become a serious safety issue if nothing is done''.

Townscape precinct rules had nothing to say about painting buildings unless they were brick or stone, he said.

The hearings committee of chairwoman Cr Kate Wilson, Cr David Benson-Pope and Cr Aaron Hawkins could not, in law, decline consent.

''You may choose the colour. That's what we're here for.''

Engineering consultancy firm Beca technical director John Heenan said he had worked on concrete cancer issues at other Dunedin buildings.

At John Wickliffe House, moisture had entered the panels through cracks, rusting reinforcing steel and forcing concrete off the panels.

''It's a disease, if you like, of the concrete.''

The extent of the problem would not be certain until scaffolding, which the committee heard would cost up to $500,000 to put in place, was up.

The committee also heard the ''paint'' needed was a sealing compound that needed to be applied once the aggregate panels were fixed.

Without it, they would look ''patchy''.

Architect Nick Baker said the aggregate in the panels would have to be removed so the reinforcing steel could be accessed and fixed.

In his submission, Mr Macknight said the company had done a good job of making the building ''occupied and thriving''.

But he questioned aspects of the company's evidence.

The extent of the concrete cancer could be checked by someone in a ''basket'' hung from a crane, he said.

The aggregate could be remade and reapplied once the reinforcing steel had been fixed, he said.

Once that was done, a clear silicone could be applied to protect the end result.

Cr Wilson said the committee needed to know if such a silicone was available, which prompted Mr Page's rejection of the whole idea.

The meeting was adjourned until that information could be found, at which time a response from council staff on the information, and Mr Page's summing up, would be heard.

Cr Wilson said that would be at least a week away.

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