Engineers worried recladding Adelaide building would hurt reputation, leaked documents show
Senior staff at the company responsible for fire engineering on the Adelaide Convention Centre discussed the possibility of replacing combustible cladding panels on the building, months after the South Australian Government suggested replacement was unnecessary.
- Engineering firm Aurecon carried out engineering work for Adelaide Convention Centre upgrades
- Internal emails show senior staff were concerned about their reputation with the Government
- The Government says it will be asking the company for answers but insists the building is safe
Internal emails, obtained by the ABC, show executives at multinational engineering firm Aurecon also discussed how the cladding issue would affect the company’s reputation with the Government as it bid for future work.
The State Government said the emails are “concerning” and it wants an explanation.
The emails date from November last year, after Aurecon had been engaged to undertake a so-called “facade combustibility investigation” on the convention centre, on North Terrace in the CBD.
Amid discussion of what steps should be taken, one staff member raised the possibility of replacing cladding panels.
“If recladding is all we can do then we report that. If we can be smarter, let’s be smarter,” the senior employee told colleagues.
“By no means we should be negligent in our advice but we need to be innovative and cutting-edge and certainly not conservative in our approach.”
The employee also said that the Adelaide Venue Management Authority were a “key client”.
“We’re working with them on the business case for the new multipurpose arena … we’re targeting lead consulting and total engineering,” he said.
Three days later, another senior employee at Aurecon replied to the email, saying:
“Massive problem if we re-clad … surely there are other options … this will hurt our brand significantly across government,” the employee email read.
Redevelopment work is carried out on the Adelaide Convention Centre. (ABC News: Sarah Scopelianos)
Minister asks company for an explanation
The company’s upgrade work on the Adelaide Convention Centre, which reopened in 2015, included facade and fire engineering.
In August last year, the SA Government identified the convention centre as one of four major public buildings to be prioritised for investigation in a statewide audit of aluminium composite cladding.
At the time, Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll said the removal of cladding was unlikely to be required.
Aurecon told the ABC the comments in the email chain were “solely an internal discussion following the conclusion of the Stage 1 report” into the facade’s combustibility.
“This initial stage included an assessment of existing information with preliminary site investigations,” a spokesperson for the company said.
“As the regulatory response to the combustible cladding issues evolves across the country, Aurecon continues to work closely with our clients and industry partners towards a safer built environment for our communities.”
But Mr Knoll said he would be asking Aurecon for answers.
“While some of the contents of these emails are concerning and I will be asking for an explanation, it is important to remember that this doesn’t change the independent advice validated by fire safety engineers,” Mr Knoll said.
He said a separate independent assessment had shown the convention centre’s risk profile was moderate, and does not pose a threat to human life.
Mr Knoll (right) said a separate fire assessment had shown there was no threat to human life. (ABC News)
But SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros said the correspondence “should be alarming to all of us”.
“These emails tend to indicate that commercial concerns are being put above any other concern,” she said.
“That has nothing to do with fixing the problem.”
The ABC this week revealed that no physical testing of cladding samples had been done on any of the four major government-owned buildings in the two years a statewide audit has been underway.
As a precaution, the Metropolitan Fire Service has doubled the number of fire trucks it sends to daytime callouts at the buildings, which include two hospitals and the Adelaide Oval.
Ms Bonaros said the State Government needed to reassure the public that safety concerns were the top priority.
“We need to know that the Government isn’t hiding anything from the public of South Australia and the only way that they can do that is by releasing the findings of their audit investigation,” she said.
“They need to put this issue to bed once and for all.”