Rathkeale Auditorium has been closed for strengthening work. PHOTO/FACEBOOK

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

An initial engineer’s report said the 760-seat auditorium at Rathkeale College was safe but a more detailed one found vulnerabilities, so a quick decision has been taken to close it for strengthening work.

That’s the gist of an email to parents from Rob Blackett, chief executive officer of Trinity Schools Trust Board.

It starts by saying the board made the necessary decision to close the auditorium at 4pm on Monday because the safety of staff, pupils and the wider community is paramount.

While the move will cause disruption, access to the school reception, offices, staffroom and all other school buildings will continue as normal.

The auditorium is not damaged but is deemed to be a risk in the event of a significant earthquake.

“It was already in our plans to do seismic strengthening work on the auditorium in late January 2020,” Blackett says. “This engineer’s report has made it necessary to accelerate that timing.”

Rathkeale College Principal Martin O’Grady says while the closure of any school facility is not ideal, when it is done in the interests of health and safety for the school community then the justification for doing so is indisputable.

“It’s an opportunity to explore new ways to deliver key events at the college while strengthening work takes place,” he said.

“The college is full of creativity and innovation and we will be harnessing this energy over the next few weeks.”

The board oversees Rathkeale College, St Matthew’s Collegiate School, Hadlow School and Hadlow Preschool and has already spent in excess of $5 million over seven years on strengthening buildings.

The initial cost estimate for strengthening of the auditorium, which was built in 2000, is approximately $1 million.

To put it in context, the board oversees assets across three campuses worth in excess of $60m.

Blackett said it is a significant and important building for St Matthew’s but the level of use was low. It was decided to close it while considering its strengthening.

From 2009 there was a review of pre-1976 buildings at the trust’s schools and after the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016, this was extended to post-1976 buildings.

A seismic engineering assessment of the auditorium found some earthquake strengthening work was required but as the building was at 34 per cent of code, it could remain open.

A subsequent more detailed peer reviewed engineer’s report identified additional vulnerabilities which has necessitated the closing of the building.

The auditorium is a significant building for the school and it plays an important role in its culture, being used for school assemblies, school productions and the performing arts.

After the closure of the town hall in Masterton it had also been used more by people from outside the school.

Alternative venues are being looked at for key school events.

The board will now try to bring the work on the auditorium forward, subject to contractor availability.