Structural building integrity and asbestos issues at the Old Post Office have resulted in more than 50 staff members being relocated and the building being closed down.
Significant concerns were raised regarding the Old Post Office building, occupied by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM), RMD Customs and Economic Planning Division (EPD), and the decision was made to move staff out.
Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) and MFEM are working together to resolve the building and occupancy issues at hand.
CIIC Chief Executive Officer Allan Jensen says CIIC undertook two separate assessments; the first being an asbestos assessment, using New Zealand specialists K2 Environmental Ltd and the second a structural assessment completed by Infrastructure Cook Islands engineers.
“The K2 assessment asserted that while there were traces of Asbestos from their testing and sampling, they were not concerned to the extent where they recommended the building be closed down and suggested a number of remedial measures for us to undertake,” he says.
“It’s important to note, that K2 was also commissioned by CIIC back in 2012, where all government buildings were assessed, and the outcome of that report resulted in the removal of asbestos from schools.”
The purpose of the report was to provide details and a risk assessment for asbestos at the building housing MFEM. The primary goal of the assessment was to assess the risk to workers from asbestos contamination.
A risk assessment of identified and presumed asbestos-containing materials (ACMs)
was made to determine the priority for action. This assessment may change if items
are damaged or disturbed.
According to the K2 Assessment, authorised and emphasised by Stuart Keer (MSc, BOHS IP402, Asbestos Assessor No. AA16090126), Managing Director of K2 Environment Ltd: “Asbestos-contaminated dust (ACD) has been identified in areas where the ceiling has collapsed or where leaks occur. The contamination appears to be minor. Priority should be given to cleaning the contaminated dust and fixing ceilings and leaks to stop the contamination recurring.”
The separate structural assessment report expressed a number of concerns, in relation to flooring integrity.
A decision was made therefore to close that part of the building, Mr Jensen says. CIIC continues to work with the ground-floor occupants Bounty Book Store on the continued safe use and access to the store as well as medium-term solutions for alternative locations.
CIIC and MFEM have been working together to relocate more than 50 affected staff members.
Financial Secretary Garth Henderson says that as soon as he was aware of the situation, the concern highlighted in the structural assessment report and the possible need for ongoing assessments and building inspections or building renovations, he moved staff out to ensure uninterrupted services to continue and to allay staff anxiety.
Affected staff are being temporarily accommodated at other premises including OPSC, Minister A Nicholas Support Office, CISNOC Office, Sports Arena VIP Lounge, Ports Cool Store, Police HQ, Airport Customs Office and the Customs Ports Office.
The public have been advised extensively and via public notices of the relocation of affected services.
Mr Jensen has expressed his thanks and gratitude for affected staff members’ patience and understanding.
Mr Jensen says a medium term solution is being worked through and developed at the moment, which will likely be a modular building or similar. Such a building will be housed possibly at the Office of the Prime Minister site.
“The medium term solution could be a reality in the next six to 12 months. The medium term solution designs need to be completed, and at that point, costing estimates would be developed, and the works tendered accordingly,” he says.
“The longer term solution is the centralised Vaikapuangi Government Centre project, a much needed asset for the government, which is a fit for purpose premise to house the majority of government departments and agencies. We are constantly patching up the existing portfolio of aged and not fit for purpose premises for the government’s workforce. The new facility will be an asset to serve the nation for many generations and provide a healthier work environment for a more productive and effective public service”
CIIC and MFEM would like to jointly thank the public for their patience and understanding, whilst these matters are being addressed.