Report finds Palmerston North buildings possibly have design problems, opens up legal action

Dozens of Palmerston North buildings could have structural weaknesses, as checks of some buildings designed by an architecture firm found they likely had problems.

The discovery raises questions about prominent buildings in the wider Manawatū region, including a council headquarters and police station, and opens avenues for legal action.

And despite a report about the situation being handed to the Palmerston North City Council in January, it did not publicly share information about the problems.

The building checks come on the back of a Stuff investigation, which found 13 near-new buildings in Masterton designed by Kevin O'Connor and Associates had weaknesses.

Five of those Masterton buildings were so far below standard they could be deemed earthquake-prone.

The firm has designed prominent properties across Manawatū and Horowhenua, including the Palmerston North central police station, the DKSH warehouse on Railway Rd, the Horowhenua District Council building and Te Takere in Levin.

The city council said in 2017 it would initially check 12 of the 148 Palmerston North buildings Kevin O'Connor and Associates had been involved in designing. The firm told Stuffin 2018 it was confident no problems would be found.

But a report prepared by Beca technical director Steve Kemp, obtained by Stuff after it was released in October, finds otherwise.

In the report, dated January 7, Kemp said eight of the 12 buildings checked had potential deficiencies that could make them non-compliant with building standards.

His job was to establish if each building was most likely compliant with the building code. He did not delve into deep detail, but reviewed the seismic design and use of materials.

He did not visit the buildings for physical inspections.

Many of the buildings found to have problems were made of steel portal frames and precast concrete panels.

Te Takere, the Levin library and community centre, was designed by Kevin O'Connor and Associates.
Te Takere, the Levin library and community centre, was designed by Kevin O'Connor and Associates.

One building on Bennett St had insufficient flex in its piles, deficient steel beams and wall bracing, and was not designed to handle the local winds.

Another on Fairs Rd had roof bracing that did not appear to account for the building's seismic load.

A vet clinic at Massey University could have problems dealing with wind and was possibly non-compliant with building standards.

Possible problems across the buildings were improperly designed precast concrete panels, incorrect bracing and identification of soil classes.

The last problem could have a "significant effect" on the seismic load of a building, Kemp said.

He recommended all the possibly deficient buildings have detailed structural assessments to find the effect of the problems.

The council told Stuff it could not provide anyone for an interview on Tuesday due to the complexity of the matter and staff availability.

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