Council seeks to remove unnecessary CPAC cladding conditions

Council is seeking to remove some of the conditions placed on the Cairns Performing Arts Centre, following repeated expert advice that the building is safe and that additional smoke detectors and changes to the external cladding are not needed. The rectification works could cost up to $2 million.

Why were the conditions imposed on the CPAC building?

To address Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) concerns regarding the external cladding used on the CPAC building, a certificate of classification was issued to Council on 26 November 2018.

The certificate allowed us to occupy and open the building, but as a condition it outlined three steps we needed to complete by the end of 2019:

  • Installing a sprinkler system in the external wall cavity, between the cladding and the external 300mm thick concrete wall;
  • Installing smoke detectors in the external wall cavity, between the cladding and 300mm thick concrete wall; and
  • Replacing strips of the external cladding with a new cladding product, to act as a fire break.

What kind of cladding is used in the CPAC building?

The CPAC building uses aluminium composite cladding, an insulation material sandwiched between two sheets of aluminium, which is widely used in construction.

In most buildings where aluminium cladding is used, the cladding forms the external wall. CPAC is different. In CPAC, the external wall is 300mm concrete. Working from the building out, the walling consists of a 300mm concrete external wall; air gap for acoustic purposes; and a cladding ‘assembly’ of insulation, plywood and cladding.

The external cladding used on 60% of the CPAC building is Apolic FR. The insulation material in Apolic FR comprises 30% polyethylene and 70% non-combustible material.

A second cladding product used on the remainder of the building is not in question.

Is Apolic FR the same type of cladding that led to significant fires in the UK (Grenfell) and Melbourne (Lacross Building)?

No. The cladding used on the Grenfell Tower and the Lacrosse Building were 100% polyethylene products and were considered a significant factor in the severity and spread of both fires.

100% polyethylene cladding is considered ‘non-conforming’ under the Building Code due to its flammability and has been banned in Australia.

Independent fire testing of the CPAC cladding assembly shows there is limited horizontal spread. Horizontal spread contributes to the speed and intensity of a cladding fire.

We take QFES’s concerns seriously and have already addressed some of the concerns regarding the fire safety of the building

We agree that a sprinkler system in the external wall cavity, as requested in the certificate of classification, could enhance fire safety in the building. We have already put this component to tender.

We have also already met further QFES conditions by installing a rock barrier on Grafton Street to prevent a vehicle crashing into the building – the only potential source of ignition – and enhanced firefighting ability by adding more fire hydrants and water reserves.

So which conditions are we seeking to amend and why?

The two conditions we are seeking to remove are:

  • Installing smoke detectors in the external wall cavity, between the cladding and 300mm thick concrete wall; and
  • Replacing strips of the external cladding with a new cladding product, to act as a fire break.

Since the certificate of classification was issued to Council in November 2018, a further fire test and fire risk assessment of the external cladding assembly has been conducted under conditions set out in the ‘Queensland Government Guidelines for Assessing Buildings with Combustible Cladding’. The building was also assessed against Victorian, West Australian and international standards.

The expert fire engineer concluded that the building is ‘low-risk and has sufficient safety and fire systems in place to ensure the safety of occupants in the extremely unlikely event the building was to catch on fire’.

The rectification works to fulfil the two conditions in question could cost up to $2 million in ratepayer money.

QFES can object to the amendment.

What the experts say

Fire testing and fire risk assessments have been completed by Ignis Solutions, specifically by Benjamin Hughes-Brown, who has 15 years experience as a fire-safety engineering consultant.

Mr Hughes-Brown led work by Fire and Rescue NSW to set standards for fire engineering solutions for buildings with non-standard materials (such as cladding) and consulted with the Australian Building Code Board in the development of CodeMark, a certification scheme for the safe use of new and innovative building products.

The engineer states:

  • The sprinkler system is automatically triggered by heat, which is a better indicator of potential fire than smoke. Smoke detectors are therefore not needed in the external wall cavity spaces.
  • Fire testing conducted at a state-of-the-art fire testing facility has shown the external cladding does not burn excessively.
  • There is a 300mm concrete wall between the cladding and the building that prevents a fire spreading into the building.
  • The cladding is not used above entry and exit points meaning patrons can be evacuated safely and firefighters are not at risk.
  • CPAC has state-of-the-art smoke detectors and sprinklers throughout the building.
  • The building is used as a theatre, not a residence, making it easy to evacuate, as opposed to residential buildings where people may be sleeping.
  • There are no adjacent buildings, so in the highly unlikely event of a fire, other properties are not at risk.

Mayor Bob Manning said in light of the repeated expert advice that CPAC was safe for use, the independent building certifier would seek to amend the certificate of classification to remove conditions for the smoke detection system and fire breaks in the cladding.

“We are confident that CPAC is safe. We wouldn’t open it to the public if we had any doubt,” Cr Manning said.

“We take these matters very seriously and have quickly responded to fire safety mitigation required by QFES where there is clear evidence that these works are needed.

“The issue we face now is spending up to $2 million in ratepayer money to install safety measures that the independent experts say are simply not needed.

“This will not only cost ratepayers financially but significantly impact our ability to hold planned events at the theatre.”

A false alarm at CPAC on 5 April showed the building could be evacuated in under 7 minutes.

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