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By ROBYN BRISTOW

Rodger Strong is unsure what the future holds for the Hurunui Hotel once it is seismically strengthened and the earthquake damage is repaired.

He is open to suggestions for the iconic hotel, which he and his wife, Nola, bought in August 1997.

It will open its doors again by late autumn or early winter, he believes.

“We have yet to decide whether to sell it, lease it or put a manager in,” he says of the 150-year-old hotel, which can boast having one of the oldest continuous licences in the country.

“If anyone has any thoughts we would love to hear them,” says Mr Strong, who says the hotel “belongs to the people of Canterbury and we are only here looking after it”.

Work began this week on the building, which closed shortly after the November 2016 North Canterbury earthquake.

The upgrade of the hotel, which has an Historic Places Trust Category-1 listing, was given a boost last week with Heritage EQUIP (the Heritage Earthquake Upgrade Incentive Programme) awarding it $132,503 in its latest funding round to help repair quake-damaged stonework.

Heritage EQUIP helps private owners of earthquake-prone buildings with a heritage classification, with maintenance costs and keep the buildings safe.

“If Heritage EQUIP didn’t come to to the party, the building would have been uneconomic for a private individual to reinstate,” Rodger says.

The funds helped Rodger and Nola raise enough capital to boost the indemnity insurance payout they received, which was not enough for the needed repairs.

The doors remained open after the first inspection following the quake, but it closed a few days later after a reinspection, Rodger says.

In December 2016, an engineers report was done on the status of the hotel and the economics of bringing it up to earthquake standard.

It wasn’t until the Strongs were introduced to engineer Win Clark and architect Dave Pearson by Hurunui District Council building inspector Kerry Walsh that things began to move.

“With their experience in historic buildings we were able to come up with a realistic formula for the building to be brought up to 67 percent, a point at which it becomes insurable and fits into lending institution criteria,” Rodger says.

With encouragement from Heritage EQUIP’s Mike Frew, the process began.

“We then filed building consents and resource consents and have now received them along with the positive response from Heritage EQUIP.”

The Strongs had, until this point, 25 years to carry out the strengthening work, but by filing the building consent, it triggers an instant start to the job.

He is grateful for the support from Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley, Deputy Mayor Marie Black and Mr Walsh, and the encouragement of Messrs Clark, Pearson and Frew.

“I would encourage people to source the information they may require.

“There are people out there to help you,” he says.

While the paperwork and funding were being sorted, Rodger, a retired builder, beavered away in the hotel assisting with the “investigation” work required for the engineers to be able to “put a plan together and scope the works needed”.

This week, stonemasons moved in along with the builder. The doors were closed mainly due to unreinforced masonry walls, minor cracking, and gable ends that posed a “major risk”.

Rodger says the main risk was masonry falling on people outside the building. However, potential inward collapse of gable ends was also a factor.

The engineering report, which went in support of the building consent, says the stone masonry generally performed well, considering the intensity of the ground shaking. It indicated “a good average quality of materials and workmanship”.

“However, it is clear that the well-cut ashlar stone masonry, notably of the north wing, has withstood the effects of the earthquake better than the stone rubble masonry, particularly where the rubble stonework was not placed to achieve a high level of interlock,” the report says.

Rodger says the U-shape of the building, had helped it stand up to the quake.

Deputy Mayor Black says she is excited the building will once again be able to open its doors. “I am really thrilled for them (Rodger and Nola).”

It was difficult for private owners of iconic heritage buildings to know where to turn to for help. It was great the council had been able to help put them in touch with the right people to enable the hotel to be upgraded.

She says it is a pleasure to also ensure that the hotel maintains its continuous licence, which has been in place for 150 years “unbroken”. “That in itself is a bit of a New Zealand record,” she says.