Ashburton Hospital Buildings to be closed following Engineering Assessments

Tuesday December 6, 2011

​Late yesterday Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) was advised by its external structural engineers that two buildings on CDHB’s Ashburton Hospital campus have been assessed as having high seismic risk because of their construction being from unreinforced masonry.

The buildings were assessed as part of CDHB’s process of reviewing the seismic capacity of buildings

This morning CDHB advised staff of the engineer’s findings and staff equipment, and files will be moved out of the buildings over the next few days.  The affected buildings include:

  • Outpatients (also containing the pharmacy) and the adjacent bed store and therapy services building. The outpatients building was originally built in 1880 and parts of it are single storey, while other parts are two-storey.  It is all constructed from unreinforced masonry and has tall brick chimneys.  It was extended in 1923, 1959 and 1969.  Despite these extensions and alterations CDHB’s external structural engineers have stated that each building still contains significant risk elements. The bed store was added on in 1952 and is also a single storey unreinforced masonry building.

  • The therapy service building was built in 1879 and is a single storey, unreinforced masonry building.

CDHB chief executive David Meates says because of the age and construction of these buildings it’s unlikely they will be strengthened.  

“Based on current evaluation criteria by our external structural engineers, these buildings have been assessed as high to very high seismic risk particularly given the unreinforced masonry. Staff and services provided from these buildings will be relocated to alternative facilities,” David Meates says. 

We know that in the event of another major quake unreinforced masonry buildings have a higher risk of collapse. As a result of closing these buildings there will be some disruption to outpatient appointments this week.  We will do our best to contact   everyone who is likely to be affected.  Supervised access will allow staff to retrieve equipment and files from these buildings over the next few days.

“I apologise for the inconvenience, however, this urgent action is being taken for the safety of staff and the public.  As we have previously stated, where we have concerns or become aware of issues regarding any of our buildings we will not compromise the safety of our employees or the public.”

Alternative facilities are being arranged for around 20 staff who usually work in outpatients, pharmacy and physiotherapy services.  The contents of the bed store building will be moved to another storage facility.

Following the February 22 and June 13 quakes all CDHB buildings were checked by independent structural engineers to ensure that facilities were safe to occupy.  These Ashburton buildings were being reviewed as part of a follow-up round of inspections, and as previously stated, while they did not sustain major damage during the quake, they have been identified as having a high seismic risk due to their construction being unreinforced masonry.

Further invasive inspections are continuing to occur at CDHB facilities throughout Canterbury.  CDHB owns over 200 buildings located from Kaikoura in the north to Ashburton in the south. 

Since September 2010 quake over 7500 hospital rooms have been damaged and CDHB has already undertaken a significant range of urgent repairs.

The cost of repairs was originally estimated to be in the region of about $70 million, however, the cost of repairs and significant strengthening is expected to continue to rise as the results of further invasive inspections are made available and the costs of the necessary work is known.

If the building was previously safe to occupy, what’s changed?

Inspections were carried out following initial major quakes and after-shocks. As these buildings were not visibly damaged, they were subject to a wider review of seismic capacity which has just been completed.

This action has been taken on the basis of the engineer’s initial findings concerning the buildings.

CDHB received formal advice from the external structural engineers late yesterday (Monday 5 December)

Have all the buildings on the Ashburton campus been checked?

Engineers have been on site the past two weeks and reports will be provided as soon as they are completed.

What exactly is the problem?

The walls in most of these buildings are made from unreinforced masonry (in most cases brick) and as such are at high risk of collapse in a significant earthquake. 

How can DHB staff be reassured about the building they work in?

Buildings have been constantly checked – we would not allow staff or patients to occupy any building that we didn’t believe was safe – this is why we have requested additional invasive inspection checks.  If your building is being rechecked, it doesn’t mean it’s not safe to occupy.

If you have any questions about buildings, talk to your manager or email

Where have services been relocated to?

This is being finalised today and as soon as arrangements are confirmed the community will be informed.

Page last reviewed: 12 February 2014