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Blenheim’s War Memorial Clock Tower in Seymour Square is to be cordoned off from public access until an engineer’s report can establish the degree of risk it would pose in a serious earthquake.
Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman says an initial assessment suggests the risk of structural damage is high enough to convince the Council that it is in the public interest to keep people away from the clock tower until further investigations can be completed.
As part of its earthquake preparedness planning, the Council has already assessed pre-1977 buildings where there’s likely to be a high risk of damage or danger to people in the event of a quake and is now examining other Council assets to assess their risk status.
The 16-metre stone clock tower has been identified as the highest risk and further assessment has been commissioned from structural engineers to establish the degree of strengthening that is required.
There has been a problem with the stone tower in the past when a weathered piece of stone cracked and water got behind it, causing it to break off. Some maintenance work was done on the tower at that time.
A check after Saturday evening’s earthquake did not reveal any damage to the tower.
"We are all acutely aware of the impact of crumbling masonry in a major quake so it is common sense to take a proactive approach to public safety – until we know what we are dealing with here," said the Mayor.
There are likely to be a number of options for any strengthening work but that would depend on the structural report, said Mr Sowman. The cost and timeframe would not be known until that report can be completed.
In the meantime, Council staff will no longer make the twice weekly climb to maintain the timing device and the clock will be left to run down.
Paid for entirely by public donation and unveiled in February 1928, the clock tower was erected in remembrance of Marlborough’s First World War casualties. It was constructed of masonry and river boulders using stone from all over the Marlborough region including Awatere River stones, Wharanui limestone and greywacke and, acknowledging the ANZAC spirit of that time, sandstone from Australia. Today it is regarded also as the region’s principal memorial to those who died in later conflicts and is ranked Category 1 on the NZ Historic Places register.
Mr Sowman says the War Memorial and Clock Tower have great significance for the whole region, not just as a memorial but as a focus for the town’s civic activity today. "It is a real landmark and I know the public will expect the Council to take all necessary steps to ensure it is made safe and secure."
Other Council assets which will need further assessment are the old grandstand at A&P Park, and grandstands at Lansdowne and Athletic Parks.
Sports codes which use these facilities, including the toilets and changing rooms beneath the stands, are being advised that they are going to be unavailable for some time.
The Council will try and help the sports groups make alternative arrangements said Mr Sowman.
For example, portable toilets and changing facilities could be possible at Athletic Park and a temporary location found for groups like the Darts Club which currently lease clubrooms under the A&P stand, said Mr Sowman.