Geoff McNelly, (left), David Weir and Mike Scott outside the Masterton Courthouse. PHOTO/CHELSEA BOYLE 

CHELSEA BOYLE

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A global engineering firm that specialises in seismic work has opened an office in Masterton to help meet the earthquake strengthening requirements of buildings in Wairarapa.

Miyamoto International, established in California in 1946, is known for designing the isolated support system that protects one of Michelangelo’s last masterpieces from earthquake damage in Milan.

The company was first active in New Zealand after the 2012 Christchurch earthquakes but has found need for its services in Masterton.

Wairarapa still holds the record for most powerful recorded earthquake with a magnitude 8.2 rocking the lower North Island in 1855.

And the active Wairarapa fault means that some of the region’s towns have the highest seismic hazard risk rated by Z-factor in the North Island.

Areas are deemed to have a high seismic risk if the Z-factor is greater than or equal to 0.3.

Masterton, Dannevirke and Pahiatua are all rated 0.42, above Wellington at .4 and Christchurch .3.

While the company’s “ad hoc” growth had seen it set up operations in Nepal, Haiti and Japan, it was only fitting it had a hub in Masterton.

The Masterton Courthouse was one of the first projects the company undertook in New Zealand.

The Courthouse closed in 2011 because it was deemed unsafe due to the risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake.

The strengthening work it required was a $3.5 million effort.

Miyamoto International chief executive David Weir said Wairarapa was “more likely to have an earthquake than say Auckland but when, who knows?”

Alongside his Miyamoto colleagues, Mike Scott and Geoff McNelly, Mr Weir shares a passion for smart design.

The less they knew about a project and the ground underneath, the more conservative an engineer had to be, he said.

Mr Weir said they wanted to help preserve Masterton’s heritage.

“We have to look after the history of this place.”

The company could do everything from complex strengthening designs through to basic home extensions, he said.

Mr Scott said the heritage of a town was about the experience that people have within it.

“Heritage is a critical element to maintain.”

Mr McNelly, a long-time Wairarapa resident, will head Miyamoto’s new operation

“Most of the focus on earthquake strengthening has centred on places like Wellington and Christchurch, while regional needs haven’t been prioritised as highly,” he said.

Wairarapa building owners could now access Miyamoto’s expertise while dealing with local people on the ground, he said.

“We believe strengthening shouldn’t be simply about meeting a code – it should aim to actually increase the value of the building and improve amenity, too.”

Mr McNelly said that, most importantly, it was about people and saving lives.

“Everyone in Wairarapa wants buildings that are as safe as possible and towns that are resilient in the event of an earthquake.”

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the construction industry in Masterton was booming and the value of building consents had increased by about 70 per cent in the past 12 months.

“Miyamoto’s decision to bring their engineering and construction consultancy here is another positive sign that this is a town on the rise,” she said.

Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce general manager Catherine Rossiter-Stead said it was another example of an international business choosing Wairarapa as a base, ahead of the rest of provincial New Zealand.

“You only have to look at the success of Powershop, for example, to see what is being achieved in our region.

“We have new businesses joining the chamber every month.”