Fire damaged building too dangerous to save

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24/07/2019 3:30:00 p.m.

Whanganui District Council’s Chief Executive, Kym Fell, says an extensively fire-damaged heritage building on the corner of Whanganui’s Taupō Quay and Victoria Avenue cannot be saved.

Mr Fell says he visited the site of the Thain’s Building at 1 Victoria Avenue on Monday with owner, Bryce Smith, and the Council’s Building Control Manager, Greg Hoobin, to better understand the situation and look at how the Council could support those affected.

He says, “An independent engineer was brought in to assess the damage and risks. Unfortunately, as a result of the advice we have received, and in the interests of public safety, we are left with no choice but to issue a notice to demolish the building.”

It is evident the building’s supporting structures have been damaged beyond repair, says Mr Fell. “There is essentially nothing holding it up and very little that can be salvaged. The fire has ripped through both upper storeys and left the building very unstable.”

Adjacent restaurants, La Quattro and Thai Villa, are currently unable to operate from their current premises, as there is a high risk that parts of 1 Victoria Avenue could collapse, impacting those buildings.  

Mr Fell says, “I have asked Whanganui & Partners to provide support to affected businesses and to assist them to resume trading as quickly as possible.”

He says, “The heritage values of this building were recognised in its 'Class B' listing in the Whanganui District Plan and along with a significant number of community submitters, the Council opposed a resource consent application for demolition in 2018. As a Council, we have worked hard to retain this building, so this is not a decision we are making lightly.”

Mr Hoobin says engineers have confirmed the building poses a significant danger to adjacent buildings and passers-by. “Heat has not only destroyed the framing of the building, it has also damaged the mortar between the bricks.

“The building is unstable and largely inaccessible and unfortunately, the extent of the damage leaves the owners with very few options.

“Temporary bollards and on-site security are in place to ensure the safety of the public. These will be replaced with chain link security fencing in the next few days. We also have Civil Defence and Downer personnel on stand-by in case of high winds, as roofing iron is currently unsecured, but cannot be safely reached.”

“We will also assist with a controlled exit strategy,” says Mr Hoobin, “which will be overseen by Council officers. This will enable tenants some limited and monitored access to certain areas of the building so that they can retrieve essential belongings.”

Bryce Smith and Sue Cooke, who purchased the Thain’s Building in 2018, say they have accepted it must come down. “We had the best will in the world to renovate and maintain the building and were very invested in it as a part of Whanganui’s heritage legacy.

“Unfortunately the damage caused by the fire has been too extensive and we now have a structure that presents immediate and significant risks to the public.

“We are investigating options for scanning the building’s remaining façade and heritage features. It may be that these can be replicated or incorporated in some way in the design of a future building on the site.

For now, Mr Smith and Ms Cooke say they will focus on safe removal of the building. “Our intention initially will be to create a green space in the area, but the immediate priority must be to ensure there is no danger to the public.”

ENDS

Page reviewed: 24 Jul 2019 3:30pm