Earthquakes are a known risk in the town of Greymouth on New Zealand’s South Island. So, when the New Zealand Ministry of Health came to replacing the town’s hospital with an integrated healthcare centre, seismic-resilience was a prime design consideration.
The town’s existing hospital – called Grey Base – was built in the 1950s on a natural ground escarpment, close to the estuary of the Grey River. Designing seismic-resilient foundations for a new building on this site posed a challenge. Yet the location was convenient for serving rural communities on the West Coast, and the site was large enough to accommodate expansion.
The South Island’s largest tertiary hospital is in Christchurch over 230 km away. The Ministry for Health wanted a new hospital for the people of Greymouth that could provide 24-hour emergency services, critical care, acute and planned surgical and medical services, a maternity unit, and outpatient care, together with an integrated family health centre to support primary care. This multipurpose building needed to offer full functionality after an earthquake, and be designed for delivery on a tight budget.
Starting with Resilient Foundations
We worked with architects CCM and Jacobs to devise solutions to the unique challenges this project presented. The building’s essential requirement was that it must be able to withstand extreme weather conditions and earthquakes. Ideally, the whole building would be designed to survive the severity of a ‘1-in-500 years’ earthquake – a risk classified under New Zealand’s building codes at Importance Level 4 (IL4). But it was clear that this level of resilience for all parts of the new building would be expensive to achieve on a hillside and riverside site. So, the project team created 3D models to test the proposed foundation structures under earthquake conditions.
Using this approach, the team devised a more cost-effective hybrid solution. They proposed designing:
- The multi-storey main hospital building to Importance Level 3 (IL3), with seismic loads 130% of a standard building
- The attached single-storey family health centre wing to IL4, with seismic loads 180% of a standard building
This meant that the family centre could be used for triage in the event of a very major earthquake, and patients would be transferred to Christchurch Hospital for critical care, if necessary. Sufficiently robust to meet the hospital’s needs, this solution was selected. It reduced the overall costs of the scheme by over NZ$6 million, leaving the Ministry for Health with more funds to channel into frontline clinical services.
Designing for Resource Flexibility
Grey Base is at least a three-hour road journey from Christchurch. So, the operating theatres in the new hospital will be equipped with technology, enabling specialist consultants to monitor procedures remotely and assist when required. This capability will be particularly useful when the hospital is difficult to access.
Many of the clinical areas are designed for multiple functions, allowing boundary spaces to be used for neighbouring departments as needed. The family centre will share resources and staff with the main hospital, creating additional efficiencies. The consulting spaces are designed to be flexible so that they can be used for general practitioner services, as well as hospital consultations.
Benefits for the Community
The project will provide Greymouth with a new hospital offering 56 inpatient beds, three operating theatres, outpatient services, an accident and emergency department. Its services will include medical imaging, pathology, pharmacy, maternity, paediatrics, oncology and dialysis, a dental suite, and comprehensive family health services. Its design and buildings services will support the latest technological advances within a safe, modern and secure environment.