SHARE
Hard at work...Three of the workers stripping out and strengthening the third floor of the Grosvenor Hotel, from left, Jack Pratt, Jason Bain and Connor Dowling. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

A $5million five-year project to earthquake-strengthen Timaru’s historic Grosvenor Hotel has begun.

Workers started two weeks ago on the upper third floor of the category 2 heritage hotel to get it to a minimum 34% of the new building standard for earthquake safety.

“It will take at least five years,” owner Ping Lim said.

“For stage one you’re talking 10 rooms and that’s costing $1.6million – we have 50 rooms.”

Earlier this year, Mr Lim received $300,000 from the Government’s Heritage Equip fund to strengthen the masonry parapet and walls, well under the overall cost of the work, which was beginning with the economy battered by Covid-19.

“We’re courageous. We decided to do it now even when the market is slow.”

Mr Lim said it was important to start earthquake strengthening as soon as possible because, if left, with inflation the cost would inevitably balloon.

“A $1.6million cost will later cost $2.5million to do what we’re doing now.

“The Grosvenor is worth saving. A lot of people, especially older people, take the Grosvenor to heart.”

He believed other building owners in central Timaru should “bite the bullet” and also start strengthening their buildings.

Many owners have shown little enthusiasm to begin such work.

Workers at the Grosvenor have been busy on the third floor undoing changes made by previous owners, including removing lowered ceilings.

“It’s going full circle. Past owners had no consistency this place has been hacked,” Mr Lim said.

Uncovered….A fireplace has been uncovered in one room once occupied long-term by a German baron. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

Stripping out a room on the northeast corner of the hotel had uncovered a fireplace.

Mr Lim said a German baron was believed to have been a long-term resident of the room during World War 2, using it to entertain guests.

Besides earthquake strengthening, a new fire safety sprinkler system would be installed.

Because the hotel did not depend on the tourism market he had continued to trade steadily after the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted.

“Timaru is a working town – there are a lot of people at the port, corporates and the farm sector. The Grosvenor has been looking after sales reps and corporates for many years.”

The hotel restaurant had been busier than before Covid-19, in part because of the unfortunate squeeze on other businesses, he said.

One nearby restaurant, Naruwan, at the corner of George and Stafford Sts, had been closed since the lockdown was imposed at the end of March and the owners were still overseas.

Debris..Some of the material ripped from a room at the Grosvenor Hotel. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

On top of all the other concerns, the heavy hailstorm in November last year, which wreaked havoc on parts of Timaru, had severely damaged the Grosvenor’s roof, Mr Lim said.

“The roof is 1200sq m  – it’s a lot of space. We’re looking at $400,000 to replace it – it’s never-ending.”

He was disappointed health and safety regulations were becoming “more draconian”.

“The Timaru District Council used to do the inspections. Now it’s outsourced to a third party who doesn’t realise the hardship.”

A recent inspection required $40,000 of work to be completed in the kitchen, which he considered was overboard.

“They want it to be perfect. So for us with all the quake-strengthening, roof and kitchen, we have to still try and keep the business going.”

The hotel was important to Timaru and particularly older people, who loved the connection to Queen Elizabeth after she stayed there during her 1954 tour of New Zealand, Mr Lim said.

He was determined to complete the project.