On March 26th 2018, the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) exited its lease on the CentrePort Harbour Quays building saying that the quake-damaged premises would take too long to repair.
The building, which is owned by CentrePoint, performed as it was structurally designed to during the November 2016 earthquake. However, the failure of non-structural elements and business furnishing within the building meant BNZ’s 1500 staff had to be relocated immediately after the quake and had not been able to return for over 16 months.
BNZ had been in the building since it opened in 2009, said it worked closely with CentrePort to understand the remediation process.
“For both parties, the safety of BNZ’s people is paramount. We have worked closely with CentrePort to understand the remediation process. We now know that it will take considerable time to reinsate the building, and as such we are exciting our lease on the building”. BNZ director Richard Griffiths said in a statement.
What can we learn
Well beyond the all important considerations about saving life, the CenterPoint Harbour Quays Building keenly shows the economic and social consequences arising from non-structural earthquake damage to commercial buildings.
Non-structural elements inside buildings are likely to fail, unless properly fastened.
Ceiling damage and damage to building services suspended above the ceiling have a cost associated with performing the repair, but what often goes unnoticed are the devastating consequences for those forced out of work while waiting for repair or replacement of non-structural elements to be completed.
Post earthquake repairs rarely proceed quickly
Many businesses require post-quake repairs which means progress is slow often taking many months, during which time firms are forced to scale back activity or close, creating huge economic hardship affecting the local community beyond just the damaged structures.
This is entirely preventable.
Seismic design requirements for non-structural components have been part of Building Standards since 2004. Compliance with these standards is one way to limit potential non-structural earthquake damage. However, there are concerns that the requirements contained within NZS1170 or NZS4219 are not well understood or enforced within the New Zealand design and construction community.
In 2017, a government inquiry revealed very few buildings, including those classed as Importance Level 4, actually comply.
Working to the Building Standards
A P3 is not a guarantee that the seismic design requirements for non-structural components contained within NZS1170 or NZS4219 have been fulfilled.
Most mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire services companies tag out seismic restraints at the time of tender, which makes any restraints most likely to be left out, and the contract then signed off without restraints.
Research by Dr Rajesh Dhakal outlines that a large proportion of the $40 billion Christchurch rebuild bill could be attributed to non-structural elements and contents. He found engineers had tended to concentrate on the primary building structure, and had not specifically considered non-structural and content damage. He also found the existing standards did not cover all services, or the interaction between them, and there were issues evident surrounding installation, final inspection and sign off.
Sadly, we learn the most about preventing earthquake damage from events like those in Canterbury and Kaikoura.
We should take these as a reminder that Building Code requirements define only the minimum standards for construction.
It will help you make better decisions, prioritize spend and accelerate the speed within which your business can become a healthier, safer and more resilient place to work.