Helping hand for building owners

5 October 2020

Neil Watson was delighted to discover his central Wellington apartment building was not earthquake prone – and relieved he didn’t have to pay for the seismic assessment that confirmed it.

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Instead the $11,500 detailed assessment was funded through Wellington City Council’s Building Resilience Fund.

This fund helps owners of non-heritage buildings with the cost or part-cost of a seismic assessment and design ahead of building strengthening.

Neil, who is based in Christchurch, co-owns a three-storey apartment block on Vivian Street.

Under the current earthquake-prone building legislation, the Council must identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings using three categories to do so.

Unreinforced masonry buildings fall under Category A, pre-1976 buildings that are either three or more storeys or 12 metres or greater in height are Category B, and pre-1935 buildings that are one or two storeys are Category C.

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The Council must notify building owners if they fall within these categories and request an engineering assessment.

Neil’s building fell into Category B.

“I was pretty concerned,” he says. “The cost of earthquake strengthening is quite high. I work in the construction industry so I had a bit of an idea of what would be involved, so I was quite worried and I’m sure the other owners were worried as well.

“We contacted the original engineer who did the structural design of the building when it was converted from a warehouse to apartments, and he had a contact at the council who he reached out to and they recommended to him that we apply for this fund.”

Neil says he found the application process relatively straight forward and easy.

A grey three-storey apartment building on Vivian Street in Wellington, with a semi-circle balcony off the second floor. The owner sought funding from Council's Building Resilience Fund to pay for a seismic assessment.

“I created a login and password on the council website and then I just filled in the reasons as to what the application was for, how much we were seeking, and then I supplied the supplementary information that was required – a quote from the engineer and proof that the co-owners of the apartment supported the fund application.

“I got a confirmation email once I had submitted it and communication levels from the Council were very good from thereon after. I was happy with that.”

Neil’s application was granted, and he was reimbursed the $11,500 cost of the detailed assessment once it had been undertaken.

Earthquake-prone buildings are given an earthquake rating, commonly referred to as a percentage of the new building standard (NBS). Buildings that achieve below 34 percent NBS are considered earthquake prone.

Neil was pleased when the result came back.

“I was elated to find out that we had passed. It was originally 75 percent when the building was converted 12 years ago so we had dropped quite a bit since then.

“But the initial reaction was elation to find out that we weren’t going to be forking out tens of thousands of dollars for upgrades.”

Would Neil recommend others in his position apply for the fund? “Definitely – even if it covers half the costs, there’s no reason not to really.”

Technical Advisor for Resilience Samantha McKeown encourages owners of other potentially earthquake-prone and earthquake prone buildings to reach out and apply for the fund. The fund is open for applications until Tuesday 13 October 2020.

“We can help you understand the criteria and process for your project. If you’re thinking of applying, someone from our Resilient Buildings Team will be happy to help you submit a complete application that meets all requirements.

“We also invite people to complete a quick survey to help us better understand how we can expand the Building Resilience Fund’s scope.

“So far the survey suggests that the top three things people would like Council funding to support are engineering construction monitoring, architectural plans, and geotechnical investigation.”

 Visit our website for more information about the Building Resilience Fund and to take the survey. To talk with our Resilient Buildings Team, email buildingresilience@wcc.govt.nz or phone (04) 499 4444.