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Expert says build again

An engineering expert has told the Wellington High Court that her preferred solution to remedy seismic defects in Wairarapa Hospital is a new building to be constructed adjacent to the current structure.

Michelle Grant, a Masterton-based engineer, said a new building meant the hospital could function with less disruption while construction was underway, as well as having many other benefits over fixing the defects in the current building. She was giving evidence on day five of a four-week trial.

The evidence was presented in support of Te Whatu Ora’s [formerly Wairarapa DHB] case against Masterton District Council. Te Whatu Ora has claimed almost $90 million in damages [plus interest and costs] in relation to alleged deficiencies in the inspection and consenting process of the hospital, among other things. The total amount claimed has been estimated during the hearing at up to $100 million in total.

Grant put forward two options for fixing the seismic defects identified in the current Hospital building. The first would involve remedying problems in the existing building, with the hospital moving functions around as needed to facilitate the build. The second would involve constructing another building very close to the existing one, including those functions considered most necessary in a post-disaster situation. The existing hospital building would remain in place.

Grant used a PowerPoint presentation of more than 150 slides showing detailed designs, descriptions and photographs of the parts of the hospital she said had seismic defects, as well as the two proposed alternative fixes.

Earthquake strengthening work completed at the hospital in 2019 and 2020 had cost about $330,000 and had been necessary to get the building up to at least 34 per cent of the NBS [new building standard]. This work was needed because there were serious safety risks if they were not done. The remedial work on this occasion had been to the entrance canopy, ambulance bay, glazed walkways and cafeteria, and was separate from the additional work needed to deal with the systemic seismic defects throughout the hospital structure.

Grant described the first option to fix the problems as ‘Scheme One’ [S1].

“When we realised the scope of the defects, the next item to turn to was remediation,” she said, with S1 an option to bring the building into compliance with the relevant building standard.

“The work we proposed in scheme one was sympathetic to the original construction typology of the building.”

Grant said the entire hospital footprint would be affected.

“It affects the entire 8,050 square metres of the hospital. There is additional remediation required to the front entrance canopy because the works we did in 2019 were just to remove the life safety risk. We didn’t get to compliance.”

However, Grant said she would not be able to sign off a S1 fix as being compliant.

“This is the requirement NZ4203 [the relevant building standard] has for a category one building [which includes hospitals].

Category one is for the preservation of human life or something very important to society, which a hospital is. It has a requirement that at a high level of earthquake, shaking deflection should be controlled to make sure the building is still functional.

“If you look at what’s needed to make sure this building can function; if I’ve got large amounts of differential movement between trusses, this can lead to damage of services; if I’ve got damage in corridors and walkways and people can’t open doors to get to theatres if I’ve dropped the ceiling tiles in a room because of movement and they are coming down that can lead to issues of functioning,” she said.

“There are a lot of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that come together for the hospital to function as it needs to function.”

She said if she couldn’t be sure the deflection could be controlled, she couldn’t sign off on a proposed S1 fix for the problems.

In addition, the construction process itself would present unique problems within a live hospital environment which needed to continue to function. Grant said work within the roof space presented access problems, services flowed through many parts of the hospital which could not be isolated, and some parts, like the isolation room, were unique facilities. There were also questions about scope.

“The scope is uncertain, which means setting a programme is quite difficult.”

Grant said taking all the relevant factors into account, the S1 option was concluded not to be a practicable idea.

Building a new structure next to the current hospital was described to the court as ‘Scheme 2’ [S2], and was the preferred choice of fix.

“On the right-hand side of the existing building, what is being proposed is a new footprint. The idea for the new footprint was to remove and house post-disaster functionality areas only.

“So to pull out some theatres, the emergency department, imaging and those sorts of areas that are necessary for immediate post-disaster response,” Grant said.

The hearing in Wellington is scheduled to continue until the end of the month.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


  1. Really….it’s not that old, who built it??? Rigg zochi….should earthquake strengthening not been done then….bloody heck do it once do it right and keep up with maintenance that’s needed like we all have to in life and stop wasting our money

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