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Future No Longer Shaky

RDT Pacific is celebrating the announcement that Hutt City Council has chosen a recommended option – one that will preserve, strengthen and refurbish the building on Laings Road, rather than a demolition and rebuilding.

This decision was made following swiftly on the heels of an announcement that the Council would adopt the Earthquake Prone Building Policy, which requires existing buildings to be strengthened to 67% of new building standard (NBS) by or before 2018.

Exceptions to this rule are heritage and historic buildings that have already been strengthened to a level just above 33% NBS, and other earthquake prone buildings to 50% NBS. This also applies where a building consent has been issued and strengthening work is currently being undertaken. The Council plans to stay and strengthen its Laings Road property instead of moving to another location.

RDT Pacific has overseen the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Rotorua Museum of Art and History during seismic strengthening projects – and Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace was recently quoted on as saying that RDT’s experience makes the company well suited to the project.

The slightly newer Western Wing will have to be demolished, as the cost to bring it up to acceptable seismic safety levels would be prohibitive. However, much loved heritage features such as the clock tower will be retained in the $22 million project. There has been overwhelming support for this choice from the Council and the public.

After initial engagement in November 2011, RDT Pacific developed 14 strategic options, of which two leading recommendations were made. Associate Director Timothy Cope was considered ideal to lead the project because of his experience in remedial ground work on a $100m building in Tokyo, and working with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and local heritage buildings.

The complex houses the council chambers as well as mayoral and administration facilities. Vitally, strengthening and improving the building will create a safer environment for all users, support positive culture change in the organisation and make the Council more flexible, responsive and adaptable. Interior space will be utilised more effectively and staff will no longer have to work in silos due to a cramped office layout.

RDT Pacific will ensure that all work is undertaken within the provisions of the long-term plan and incorporates sustainable initiatives. Investing in a high quality building will bring benefits for the Council and its communities by delivering value and long-term savings through reduced operating costs and workplace efficiencies. Employees need to be accommodated temporarily elsewhere during the build, so a key consideration is to minimise disruption and downtime. RDT Pacific will manage the temporary accommodation while work is carried out.

The project is not without considerable challenges. The site is prone to liquefaction and lateral spread at approximately the earthquake-prone building threshold level. Timothy Cope is well aware of the need for sensitive ground remediation to the existing (and any future buildings) on the site. “The right fit for purpose technology and design solutions need to be found that best respond to project needs (particularly for groundwork) and to ensure the envelope is well protected throughout the project.”

This project enables Council to set an excellent example of Environmentally Sustainable Design linked with seismic improvement and heritage retention, in addition to leading local building owners by acting as a catalyst for CBD revitalisation.

The wider Civic Centre – including the War Memorial Library and St James Church – is on the Historic Places Trust register, and forms part of the Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area. RDT Pacific understands that this makes it even more imperative to retain the original character of the building, and that all work be thoroughly documented. Following discussion with New Zealand Historic Places Trust, certain conditions were considered mandatory: preserving the original administration building’s façade and two entrances, continuous use of the site for civic purposes, and retaining the two stairwells for the Council chambers and services.

Next steps include ongoing consultation with the community, underpinned by a consideration of heritage values and prudent investment of ratepayers’ funds. Timothy is excited about the next stage. “RDT Pacific now leads the charge to develop a business case in support of the two associated Town and Horticultural Halls in the precinct: investigating options to ensure facilities respond to the community’s needs.”

RDT Pacific now leads the charge to develop a business case in support of the two associated Town and Horticultural Halls in the precinct: investigating options to ensure facilities respond to the community’s needs.”
– Timothy Cope, Associate Director, RDT Pacific