When Life Gives You Lemons…

In the second, larger 13 June 2011 earthquake, two of the large decorative concrete panels came off our work building.  That, in turn, made the engineers unsure how the building would perform in another large earthquake (and since we were on the third quake above 6.0 at the time in a rather rich aftershock sequence, no one was ruling out anything by that point… Mother Nature seemed to turf the rule book out the window).  So, Unit 7 in Amuri Park was red-stickered, and the owners came to see us to tell us that it was cheaper for them to demolish and replace the building than to repair it.

Unit 7 Being Torn Down
Unit 7 being demolished. All the damage to the front of the building was done by the demolition company. The panel on the ground on the left of the building actually came off during the 13 June 2011 6.4 quake.

We lost approximately 95% of the school’s then-26 years of equipment, documentation, and resources.  It was a very daunting and overwhelming fact to take in, and we had serious questions (as we had after the 22 February 2011 quake and its destructive effect on Christchurch, and NZQA’s “course closure” event, which was even more destructive to Christchurch training providers than the quake had been) on whether we wanted to keep going or to shut up shop and move on with our lives.

We decided to stay open.

We were going to rebuild, one brick at a time, if we had to do that.

The hunt was on for new premises while we set up temporary premises (again) and tried to beg and borrow for any equipment we could for students to use.

The first time we stepped into the office with warehouse space at 134 Antigua Street, I didn’t like it.  The office space was packed to the rafters with people from another premises the landlord owned that was being repaired after the earthquakes.  There was something like 80 people crammed into offices all around the place.  And the warehouse space had minimal lighting, was crammed full of shelves and equipment and… I just couldn’t see how this big open space would turn into anything useful.

We had seen some other premises, but everything seemed to fall through or wasn’t suitable.  One other premises lead we were following was in a mall, and it depended on the main anchor tenant moving out so the upstairs space could be subdivided from the main store when a new anchor moved in.

I was more keen on the mall premises, but Noel and Don were pushing for the Antigua Street one.  The mall space depended on a lot actually falling into place, while Antigua Street was pretty much ready for the taking.

Our agent, a lovely woman by the name of Helen, met us for coffee with the lease for the mall option.  Instead of being an office lease, it was a lease for a retail area (which is a lot more oppressive and doesn’t really meet the needs of an office lease).  It was the final nail in the coffin for that possible premises after a litany of “when this happens, then you’ll be able to do…”.

Noel and I were heading to America in a few days for a month.  We needed something concrete in place before we left so we could reopen in a permanent new premises by January 2012.

We decided to go view Antigua Street again, and the landlord agreed to meet us there.  This time, he insisted the back roller door be open and that we have a proper look through the place.

I admit, I could start seeing the potential in the place that time.

Noel and the landlord talked about facts and figures near the roller door, and it ended up with the landlord saying, “You name a price.”  Noel named a price, and that was that.  We had a new premises.

We came up with various different floor plans, signed the lease, and went away to America with at least that part of the puzzle in place.  The landlord had said they wouldn’t be starting work until we got back in late September anyway, so that was fine.  His architect was going to draw up some plans from the floor plans I’d come up with, and we’d go from there.

Upon returning from the US, we went to Antigua Street and found this:

Interior of the warehouse section of Antigua Street

Interior of the warehouse section of Antigua Street

Interior of Antigua Street warehouse space

They’d used one of my plans and started without us!

We had to quickly rearrange the plans to accommodate the pipes which were already in the new floor and build around that area.

I won’t go on about what happened between this time and the final product, but there was a lot of hard work and planning and finding money to pay everyone to get to where we got to.  Noel managed the entire thing, between haggling the insurance company every week to see how our payout was coming along to working with Don the Builder (as we call him… not the same guy as Don, Noel’s business partner) to make sure all the tradesmen were in sync with one another.  I took to Google SketchUp to design cupboards, sink bench units, and other cabinetry while Jacqui, Noel, and I chose a colour scheme, carpets, and linoleum for the new classroom area.

We put the finishing touches on in December 2011.

The Great Hall at the National School of Aesthetics

The Great Hall

Chairs and tables in the Great Hall

A practical room at the National School of Aesthetics

A practical room at the National School of Aesthetics

Sink bench unit in corridor at the National School of Aesthetics

Lecture room at the National School of Aesthetics

Along came the 23 December 2011 quakes.  The building, up to code and the interior built to the latest safety standards, had relatively little damage.  This time, we were prepared.

The morals of this tale are:

  1. In the face of adversity, it’s far easier to run and hide than to stand your ground, but knowing that you tried (and if you are lucky enough to make it through) is far more challenging and rewarding.  You can become a better person through this.
  2. Build a good team of people around you to achieve your goals.
  3. Sometimes, when you approach a project or problem, it’s best to approach it with an open mind and some lateral thinking.  You’ll be surprised what you can achieve.

I think Noel took most, if not all, of these photos.

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