Home' Greymouth Star : November 8th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
Saturday, November 8, 2014 - 7
A grey cloud hangs over Greymouth’s historic buildings. Many do not meet current building standards and their future could be bleak if the owners do not have
the funds or incentive to strengthen them. For some owners, the more practical decision is to sell or demolish to make way for modern development. Canterbury
University student SIMONE MACKENZIE talks to those determining the fate of Greymouth in its 150th year.
Robin Ross faces a moral dilemma.
His Showtime Jewellers building on
the corner of Mackay and Tainui streets
needs earthquake strengthening, but he
has recently entered retirement. So quite
rightly he has hesitated about taking on a
large strengthening project.
He is wary of three drains which can
often escalate in renovations: excessive
time, energy and unexpected costs.
Although these factors could be avoided if
skillully managed, it is still a gamble.
“There are a number of reasons why I’ve
taken on this job. First, I think safety is
a moral responsibility. I feel that public
buildings, especially in high-profile areas,
should meet council standards. Showtime
Jewellers is located centrally in an
important intersection ... it was built in
1910 and has a long history in Greymouth.
“ I’m delighted to be preser ving history,”
Mr Ross said.
Grey District Council building control
team leader Phil Beck encourages building
owners to restore and strengthen, rather
His team use NBS, the new building
standard to assess the earthquake risk of
Greymouth’s public buildings. Mr Beck
explains that the council has a proactive
policy to building strengthening, and has
already begun initial structural assessments
So far, 399 pre-1976 buildings on the
register have been checked. These are
either passed at above 34% NBS, or the
owners are informed of a strengthening
requirement. Of the low rated buildings,
14 are currently being earthquake
strengthened, including Showtime
However, a growing number are
earthquake prone, and are not being
strengthened. The options are limited for
owners who baulk at the cost of repairs,
and it appears they may either demolish or
sell. Yet, even demolition is not a cheap fix,
with owners told to expect landfill costs in
the order of $10,000.
Mr Beck knows that a hard-hitting
approach will not work.
“The local economy is not large. We
can’t just close down earthquake-prone
buildings. Instead, we implement a
reasonable timeframe for the owners to
complete earthquake repairs.”
Building owners may consider
strengthening to be more resilient in an
earthquake, and less likely to suffer damage
and loss of business. He also recognised
an economic advantage to strengthening;
owners with strengthened buildings can
negotiate cheaper premiums with their
insurance agency. However, putting off the
job for years only increases costs due to
“It’s better for business owners to act
now and keep costs down,” he said.
The council’s assets manager Mel
Sutherland is co-ordinating the
strengthening of the various council-
“The initial evaluations have all been
completed. We are now moving on the
detailed engineering assessments.”
Strengthening work has already begun
on community buildings, with parapets
‘tied down’ on the Left Bank Art Gallery
“ We deal with the dangerous elements
first. Christchurch’s earthquakes have
proved that work needs to start now,” Mr
In Greymouth, engineers are assessing
the Harbour Board offices, History House,
recreation centre and the Grey District
Mr Sutherland said that put him in a
similar position with private owners, and
he must decide whether to strengthen or
demolish and rebuild.
“A consideration for building owners is
whether they own the land their building
sits on,” he said, referring to the Mawhera
Incorporation leasehold land that
dominates central Greymouth.
The leasehold has a direct bearing on the
economics of whether to strengthen or sell.
David Curruthers, owner of the current
Postie building in Mackay Street,
has a pragmatic view of earthquake
“ You don’t know what you’re getting into.
I spent more than expected ... the whole
job cost $900,000, which was double the
In hindsight he does not know if he
would take on the job again.
“Although it ’s nice to preser ve old
buildings if possible, it comes at a cost that
can be hard to justify. ”
Mr Curruthers describes the
strengthening of his 1930s building
in straightfor ward terms: “After the
Inangahua earthquake, parapets were taken
down. Recent structural work involved
more extensive strengthening, with steel
framing and bracing.”
He acknowledges that since parapets add
historic character, taking them down has
changed the aesthetics of the building. Yet,
“ in the event of a significant shake, the
objective is to keep the building standing,
and that ’s what strengthening work is all
As for the future of the town’s historic
buildings, he said that boiled down to
“ Market forces will control the future of
Christchurch-based property developer
Hugh Pavletich echoes the view that
economic forces will drive the local
building scene. Realistically, “some
buildings are not worth the cost of
Mr Pavletich had extensive involvement
in Greymouth development projects over
an 11-year period, up until 2004.
Specifically, he was involved with the
Mawhera Incorporation’s controversial
demolition of the 1903-era Greymouth
Post Office building.
“ Buildings, just like us all, have a
lifespan,” Mr Pavletich said.
Heritage advocates are likely to disagree.
They replaced the category one heritage
Post Office building with a modern
Asked if this is an example of market
forces stripping Greymouth of its culture,
he said he did not see it that way.
“The Post Office was obsolete in
style, lost function and was structurally
unsound. We gave the Greymouth pubic
an opportunity to appeal through council
hearings, and I have responded to what the
He refers to extensive legal processes to
be able to demolish the historic building.
Could it have been strengthened instead?
“ Yes, it could have been. We looked at all
the options extensively, but the building
was obsolete. It wasn’t meeting the needs
of the people,” Mr Pavletich said.
Ironically, almost 20 years after taking
a wrecking ball to the heritage Post
Office building, the shopping complex
that replaced it was last year shut down -
because it was assessed well below the new
building standards. Three tenants moved
out, but only one, NZ Post, returned when
the work was done.
Professional photographer Stewart
Nimmo chairs the Greymouth Heritage
Trust, and speaks candidly of the way
Mr Pavletich went about demolishing
Greymouth’s category one heritage
“ Mr Pavletich dodges public opinion
to get what he wants. He does not
demonstrate an appreciation for local
heritage, and has no economic incentive to
respect it. ”
Mr Nimmo is just as concerned about
currently “endangered” buildings in town.
“ I am concerned about the future of the
Courthouse and old Royal Hotel. I don’t
know if the current owners will choose
to restore. It would be a terrible loss for
Greymouth if either are demolished.”
He takes to renovation with a love and
respect for heritage: “All that is really
needed is innovation to breathe life into
Where others see problems, he sees
endless possibilities to approaching
restoration, but admits there is no single
‘right ’ way to restore.
For instance, “a new design can be
incorporated into the existing structure. It
can be a mix of old and new”.
“ I think heritage has a huge value for
society, and our tourism industry,” Mr
He is pleased to see that some owners
of historic buildings share that view,
including Robin Ross directly across the
street from his own store.
Building owner Peter Cornish, of Ross,
now faces earthquake strengthening of Mr
Nimmo’s corner premises, in one of the
most central locations in town.
So, why did he buy a building that needs
“ I bought it because I wanted to restore
it. Even so, the costs involved were
He criticised the Historic Places Trust
for not providing support for category two
listed buildings. “ I don’t think the heritage
trust should be telling business owners
what to do.
“ It doesn’t make sense for the trust to
inter vene without providing some financial
assistance, but that is limited to category
one heritage buildings. ”
He does not condone Mr Pavletich’s
decision to replace the old Post Office
with a shopping centre. “ Mr Pavletich
is a property developer, and he bought
the Post Office building to make the site
commercially profitable. I would have
liked to see parts of the existing building
retained and strengthened ... but Mr
Pavletich was the building owner, not me.”
John Mackenzie is an experienced
structural engineer who has been
employed in Greymouth for 15 years. He
has a wider focus than increasing NBS
ratings of buildings.
“ NBS values are an indication of building
strength. However, more important than
reaching a high NBS value is achieving
robustness. A robust building will not
collapse in an earthquake,” he said.
“The top priority is to protect people’s
PICTURE: John Bisset
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