Nelson College’s main building.

Schools pass quake test


Closing the main block at Nelson College would have been a “nightmare”, but it’s a thought headmaster Gary O’Shea shouldn’t have to worry about with the school passing all of the seismic strengthening tests that have occurred so far.

Both Nelson College and Nelson College for Girls were among the 224 schools in the country that the Ministry of Education had assessed to see if they were at risk in the event of an earthquake.

Even though high profile buildings in Nelson, such as the Trafalgar Centre and Nelson School of Music, were closed for being well below the new building standard, Nelson College – the oldest state school in the country – has proven to be above it.

The main block is one of three that will still be assessed in the coming weeks, but Gary says they are the lowest priority, which is why they were left last. “We own our own boarding houses and two of them were built in the late ‘30s. We had a complete seismic report done actually before the Christchurch Earthquake, and both Rutherford and Barnicoat came back at 100 per cent,” he says. “The Ministry of Education does their thing with the buildings they own, but we weren’t concerned because the two oldest were 100 per cent.”

While the building standards have increased over the years, the Ministry ensured the buildings had been structurally upgraded to meet those as they improve and, like other schools with similar structures, they were upgraded in the 1990s. “The school has been pretty proactive in the last 15 years with the work we’ve been doing, even before the Christchurch Earthquake. We’ve got the largest number of boys we’ve had in the school’s history, so the last thing we wanted is for parts of it to be inoperable.”

Gary says closing the main block would be a “nightmare”, but he’s confident it will pass.

The main block was rebuilt after the Murchison Earthquake severely damaged the previous building in 1929, and Gary highlighted its structural strength by describing it as a “bird’s nest of steel with concrete”.