Strengthening the Christchurch Arts Centre against Earthquakes

By Juanita Copeland, TV 3 News

One of the biggest repair jobs after the Christchurch earthquake is to fix a heavy stone turret at the Arts Centre, which suffered $25 million worth of damage. Today a crane lowered the turret to the ground where it will undergo repairs that could last well into 2012.

From before dawn a team of structural engineers bolted, tweaked, checked and double checked the turret. Then, six hours later, two sections of the 128-year-old stone structure parted and a 100 tonne crane lowered it to the ground.

“We haven’t got much room to spare up there, everything’s within a few millimetres of where it has to be,” says John Hare, of the Holmes Consulting Group.

During September’s 7.1 earthquake, the turret split through the middle and down the supporting columns. “If it collapses the top of the turret’s heading towards the main roof of our hall, so that would be a real disaster,” says Arts Centre director Ken Franklin.

Of the 23 category one heritage buildings that make up the Arts Centre – the city’s original university – four sustained serious damage.

“We’ve got about $25 million worth of damage it’s estimated at the moment,” says Mr Franklin.

Half of that is expected to be spent on the repair of the observatory building. Its dome and the telescope inside it may also have to be removed by crane and the top part of the building rebuilt.

The old chemistry building also sustained significant damage but old strengthening work saved the buildings from complete collapse.

“All of the work that was done originally was done on a shoe string and for that it’s been remarkably effective,” says Mr Hare.

The turret will stay on the ground for up to two years while it’s repaired and craftsmen also work on the base of the structure that remains on the roof.

Then the engineers will be back to reverse this tricky manoeuvre.

3 News – Video courtesy TV 3 News New Zealand

Holmes Consulting engineer Mark Whiteside can be spotted on the platform swinging out over the Centre.