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Hospital in High Court: Seismic defects exposed

Wellington High Court was told this week that Wairarapa Hospital has more than 3000 known seismic defects, with a further unknown number of such defects.

On Thursday the defects were described in detail by Masterton-based engineering expert Michelle Grant in her evidence in the case brought by Te Whatu Ora [formerly Wairarapa DHB] against Masterton District Council [MDC].

Grant began her testimony about the hospital’s structural defects late yesterday morning, and it was still being presented in the afternoon.

Grant is a Chartered Professional Engineer with experience in both structural design and project management. She formed Masterton-based LGE Consulting in 2014, and has completed seismic assessments of many local buildings, as well as earthquake strengthening and other structural design work.

In meticulous detail, using a PowerPoint presentation, she described roof plane bracing defects, vertical brace truss defects, and ceiling plane brace defects.

She said that, in an earthquake, the weight of the building from the roof down needs to be held.

Grant’s visual divided the hospital building into six sections and clustered the defects into groupings.

She said in some locations, trusses do not line up with the walls. Some roof plane bracings are not properly connected and, in one place, insufficient nails have been used.

Grant said the roof plane bracing transfers the load in an earthquake.

“As you can see [on the diagram] we found that the roof plane bracing wasn’t connected to the component, or the vertical bracing truss in this case.”

She added there is no nailed connection joining two components, which she pointed out in a photo.

“So the roof plane bracing was present, but the connection of where the loads were meant to go, or where it was meant to transfer those loads to, hadn’t been installed,” she said.

She said the hospital is a timber-framed construction, categorised as a category one building in the relevant legislation. This means it had additional construction requirements, reflecting the need to prevent loss of life and maintain its functionality.

Grant described how the building would behave in an earthquake depended on which direction the quake came from, with different walls having different functions to maintain building integrity.

A system of braces works to transfer the building load from the roof down as the building shook in an earthquake. She said loads at ceiling level also need to be transferred around.

“There is a job of work to do at ceiling level,” she said.

Grant said the hospital has a suspended ceiling.

Te Whatu Ora has claimed damages from the council of just under $90 million, together with interest and costs. During the hearing, the total amount claimed was referred to as worth up to $100 million. The four-week trial started on Monday.

The claim includes alleged deficiencies in the design and construction of the hospital, and deficiencies in the consenting and inspection process, and a wide range of questions about the relevant code of compliance certificate sign-off.

MDC are robustly defending the claims.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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