The old Chrome Platers Ltd. building in Timaru, which is a Category II historic place, was constructed in 1883. It is not known who owned the site originally, but the company, Chrome Platers Ltd., which now trades as Concours Electroplating Ltd., purchased the site in 1961 and continued to use the premises up until 2014. The company specialised in electroplating chromium onto metal objects for decoration and/or protection against corrosion.
Concerns about the safety of the site were first raised in 2015, when a vat of acid caught fire inside the building. Some sources, however, suggest that it was a gas leak that raised initial concerns. Either way, hundreds of people were forced to evacuate the site and those surrounding it. An investigation was subsequently launched and this resulted in the owner being issued a warning to identify and store chemicals more safely. Following a second assessment in 2016, it was found that the owner had failed to comply with health and safety stands for hazardous substances. According to the agencies involved in monitoring the safety of the site, “[the owner] failed to meet his obligations under both sets of legislation and does not have the financial resources to bring the property into compliance.” In total, between 90,000 and 133,500 litres of chemicals with high levels of toxicity and insufficient labelling were still found unsafely stored at the site.
A clean-up of the site took place in 2016, at an estimated cost of $750,000. Following the successful clear-out of hazardous chemicals, the agencies negotiated with the owner (threatened him with jail time) and it was decided he would ‘quit the property’ and allow it to be added to the government’s Contaminated Sites register. However, despite being thoroughly cleaned the council has now deemed the structural integrity of the site as being unstable and, on the whole, in a poor condition. There are concerns about the contamination levels of the soil beneath the structure, and the condition of the concrete and key supporting beams. According to Davina McNickel, an ECan scientist, the site still poses a serious hazard to individuals entering the premises and “under no circumstances should the public make any attempt to access the building.” It other words, its future appears to be very bleak, especially as no party has indicated that it would be financially viable to save the building. Therefore, demolition could well take place very soon, once the council has negotiated with Heritage NZ to remove its listing as a Category Two historic place.
Our Version of Events
We’d checked out this place a few months ago, but a little pushed for time we only had time to explore the building next door which turned out to be an old nightclub. However, as we had to travel up through Timaru once again, this time to escape a storm that led to a state of crisis being declared across the South Island, we decided we’ve have another crack at the old chrome platers building. At first things, didn’t look too hopeful mind. All the obvious entrances were well sealed, and even the nightclub next door had been re-secured. In the end, though, our perseverance paid off and we managed to get inside.
As soon as we entered the main workshop it was instantly obvious that most of the good stuff had been cleaned out during the great purge of 2017 which had taken place a few months earlier. Nevertheless, there was still a heavy chemical smell in the air, and a few bits and bobs to see, so there was a good feel to the place. In addition, with all the old tools lying around, you could almost imagine several well-chromed Harleys or Chevrolet pick-ups sitting on the main shop floor, ready to be polished one last time. We spent around half an hour wandering around the old site, making sure in that time that we checked out the ‘poison room’, on the off chance the council and agencies had left something interesting behind. Sadly, in our warped opinion anyway, it seemed they’ve done a very thorough job of removing the 100,000 litres of chemicals because not a single drop remains.
After the poison room, we decided it was time to crack on and get outta town. We left via the main door this time, for a snappy exit onto the main street, rather than faff around trying to get out the hard way. We relocked it as we departed though, so apologies to those fellow Kiwi explorers out there. We’d heard many bad tales about the local youths in Timaru, so we thought it was best to make it more difficult for the cans of spray paint to get inside.
Explored with Nillskill.