Seismic strengthening irks university

The University of Otago is concerned changes to earthquake-strengthening rules could add unnecessary costs to its already hefty $50 million seismic programme.

The university's submission on the Government's Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill broadly supported proposed changes but expressed concern about a requirement for all buildings built before March 31, 2005, to be inspected.

Minister for Building and Construction Nick Smith, who recently took the role from the disgraced Maurice Williamson, said he would have a ''fresh look'' at the issue, taking into account submissions from the university and others.

''This is a complex area where we need to get the balance right between the safety of buildings and the cost impositions on organisations like the university,'' Dr Smith said.

The university's written submission, on behalf of property services director Barry Mackay, questioned the merits of moving away from a requirement for only pre-1976 buildings to be tested.

''The [university's] assessment of pre-1976 buildings and residential college buildings is nearing completion, and the university is understandably concerned that further financial and staff resources may be required for the assessment of buildings constructed before 2005,'' the submission said.

The university could find ''no research or commentary'' to justify the change from using the introduction of stricter building codes in 1976 as the cut-off point and noted its inclusion came as a ''surprise'' as it was not signalled during the Bill's formulation.

''The risk of modern building failure cannot be significant enough for most parts of the country to justify a nationwide assessment and strengthening regime that would encompass nearly all non-residential building stock,'' the university said.

That the university took the ''health and safety of staff and students seriously'', was shown by its extensive programme to strengthen buildings to a minimum of 67% of new building standard.

Dr Smith said it was a ''complex'' issue and people pushing for all pre-2005 buildings to be included were influenced by the fact the greatest loss of life in the Christchurch earthquake occurred in the CTV building, which was built after 1976. However, he would re-examine the Bill, the minister said.

''I am worried that the net of the Bill may have been thrown too widely and as new minister coming in [I am] taking a fresh look at whether we do need to include younger buildings and also the provisions around farm buildings.''

The issue was discussed at this week's capital development committee meeting at the university, where chief operating officer John Patrick said the change could require its seismic assessment programme to be extended.

It had completed tranches one to five of its assessment programme, with only tranche six remaining.


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