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Burnside High School to close two blocks after seismic assessment report

Two of Burnside High Schools’ classroom blocks, I and J block, will close after the school’s board received draft detailed seismic assessments revealing that both buildings are below the minimum level of earthquake rating required under the New Building Standard (NBS).

Consequently, the whole school will close on Thursday, March 21 and Friday, March 22 to allow time to reconfigure the school and then reopen on Monday, March 25 with new timetables and teaching locations.

As part of assessing weathertightness issues for I and J block, the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) contracted engineering consultancy BECA to also undertake detailed seismic assessments of both buildings.

Both I and J block were assessed in 2014 and rated 50%NBS (Block I) and 57%NBS (Block J). However, in 2017 the introduction of new national seismic assessment guidelines meant buildings must now be above an earthquake rating of 34%NBS.

The Ministry has received draft seismic assessment reports from BECA that show both I and J block are 15%NBS, each below the minimum earthquake rating level. Board deputy chair and chair of the property sub-committee, Chris Wallace said that the Ministry of Education decided I and J blocks could stay open in the short term until students and staff move to the new Pukehinau Block in July. “However, based on the school’s own risk assessment and considering the wellbeing of staff and students we have made the decision to close I and J block while their future use is being decided.” Chris Wallace said that the Ministry supports this decision.

“We appreciate that this is very short notice and will be disruptive for some families, but the school’s priority is the safety of our staff and students. “Our staff have been busy working on the accommodation plan for our students given I and J block consist of 24 classrooms – nearly a quarter of our teaching space.

“Since the rating for the buildings is less than 34%NBS, it is highly likely that the Christchurch City Council will determine the buildings’ status as earthquake-prone upon receipt of the final BECA reports. “If so, the council will then issue an earthquake-prone building notice for the two blocks and include them on the Earthquake-Prone Building register,” Chris Wallace said.

Earthquake-prone buildings are defined in section 133AB of the Building Act 2004 as buildings whose ultimate capacity will be exceeded in a moderate earthquake and, if it were to collapse, would likely result in injury or death, or damage to another property.

“Because the earthquake rating for both blocks is now 15%NBS, both blocks are now classed as Grade E buildings under the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering grading scheme. “Grade E buildings represent a life-safety risk to occupants more than 25 times that expected for a similar new building, indicating a very high relative seismic risk compared with a similar new building. “We are not prepared to take any risks around the safety of our students and staff,” Chris Wallace said.

Principal of Burnside High School, Scott Haines said, “We know that once an earthquake- prone building sticker goes onto I and J block, many of our parents would not want their children going into those buildings and would likely withdraw them from these classes. “We also did not want to ask our students or staff to work from Grade E rated buildings. This would likely cause stress and could have impacted on students’ learning outcomes.

“There are three weeks until the end of the school term and, during this time, we will roster one Year level per day to study from home. Given some of our Year 9 students are not 14, and can’t be home on their own, this will not apply to Year 9 – they will be at school all five days. “Rostering students at home is necessary in the short term to enable the school to reconfigure and develop a new timetable without the use of I and J block,” said Scott Haines. “When our students return from the term vacation at the start of Term 2 we will split the school day into two sessions- juniors will come earlier, with seniors coming later. “We know this will not work for all students and families so where there are problems or clashes, we will work with each student and their family/caregiver individually. “Our new Pukehinau Block is scheduled to open by July this year and, once open, we will be able to use that space to go back to a normal timetable.

“Our goal is to minimise disruption to student learning. “We have very resilient students at Burnside, and we learnt many lessons during Covid about how to manage offsite and online learning.

“One thing parents and students can be assured of is that the exceptional educational outcomes that Burnside High School is renowned for will not change. “We are proud of our reputation as one of New Zealand’s leading secondary schools and that is not due to our buildings, but rather our incredibly talented teaching staff,” says Scott Haines.

The Board’s decision to close its buildings mirrors the decision made by Lincoln High School in 2021. Their board also closed their affected classrooms after receiving the same NBS rating.

 

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