22 Jul 2015

Nelson bracing itself for earthquakes

11:01 am on 22 July 2015

Nelson City Council will decide tomorrow if it will to spend around $13 million needed to earthquake-proof its main civic venue, the Trafalgar Centre.

Nelson school of music.

Nelson school of music. Photo: RNZ/ Tracy Neal

It has been shut for 18 months because of its vulnerability in even a moderate earthquake.

And it is not the only public building in Nelson being given a seismic once-over.

Around $40 million needs to be spent to bring its three key arts venues, including the Nelson School of Music and Suter Art Gallery up to scratch.

The Trafalgar Centre was once home to the World of Wearable Art Awards, and more recently the Nelson Giants basketball team, but it is showing early signs of a place that has been mothballed.

Tomorrow a decision will be made on its future, and it seems Nelsonians want it to stay, including those who are missing the large touring events that no longer come here because there isn't a venue large enough to host them.

Nelson has been without a large performance venue since the Nelson School of Music shut the doors to its auditorium days after the Trafalgar Centre closed. The 114-year-old building also fails to meet new seismic strength benchmarks.

Julie Catchpole

Julie Catchpole Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The home of the international Adam Chamber Music Festival needs an almost $6.5 million make-over.

Colleen Marshall, who chairs the committee steering its redevelopment, said they had no choice but to go ahead.

"Bricks and mortar 100 years ago weren't put together that securely. Building methods weren't perhaps quite as visionary as perhaps we'd like to have had them today," she said.

Meanwhile, across town, the Suter Art Gallery is getting on with the job.

The gallery which was opened in 1899, closed a few months ago for renovations and earthquake strengthening. Director Julie Catchpole says the refurbishment plan was launched in 1999 but it met several obstacles.

The Nelson City Council, Bishop Suter Trust and the Government passed an act in parliament in 2008 that allowed it to proceed.

School of Music Trust chairman Roger Taylor said renovation plans had now been drawn up, major funders had committed their support and it was now over to the community to help reach a fund-raising target of a total $6.4 million.

A reopening date is set for late 2016, ready for the international Adam Chamber Music Festival in February 2017.

Ms Catchpole said a fresh focus on earthquake strengthening of heritage buildings in particular is part of the reason it's pushing ahead with the project.

Trafalgar Centre

The Trafalgar Centre. Photo: RNZ/ Tracy Neal

Nelson and its nearest neighbours Marlborough and Buller have experienced large and fatal quakes in the recent past.

Earthquake risk is something that Nelson geologist Mike Johnston is often asked about. He said despite a network of faultlines throughout Nelson, the biggest risk remained from a more distant source like the Alpine Fault.

He said it was possible to design buildings for all eventualities but it was a case of money.

"It becomes a bit of a compromise between how much money you've got to spend and the risk and the likely effects of severe ground shaking is going to be," Dr Johnston said.

Building height and population density are also risk factors when it comes to determining how earthquake-prone a place might be, which is where Nelson scores higher than its neighbours in Marlborough and Buller.

They sit on within areas assessed as likely to feel the effects of a large earthquake greater than Nelson might.

Each has lists of buildings which don't meet revised earthquake standards and will either have to be made stronger, or pulled down.

Nelson closure notice

Photo: RNZ/ Tracy Neal

The Nelson City Council is now surveying owners of central city and heritage buildings to find out if they know what's required of them.

A senior manager, Clare Barton said many people were still getting their heads around the issue.

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