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The Post and Telegraph Offices is a governmental building located in Mackay Regional Council in Queensland and is subject to a number of governmental statutes in terms of accessibility. The most important among them include the “Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act (DDA 92),” “Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act (1991)” and the “Equal Opportunity in Public Employment Act (1992).” The prime objectives of the governance of the building site through the statutory provisions is to ensure that all the citizens of Australia and the members of the community are allowed an equitable form of access into the building premises as well as its services (Queensland Legislation, 2020).
The audit regarding the accessibility status of the building was carried out to determine the adherence of the construction to “Australian Standards 1428.1” (Standards Australia, 2020). Based on the geographical specifications of the building, the areas therein were divided into a number of plans using the scale measures of 1:120.
Figure 1: The Mackay Post Office
(Source: Local Heritage Register: The Post and Telegraph Offices, 2020)
Notifications were also sent out to the Equitable Access Advisory Committee along with obtaining valuable feedback relating to the audit process. Furthermore, aerial pictures of the building and its areas were taken, which were then annotated and marked based on the identification of the non conformances. The building is also of historical importance to the Government of Queensland and is the second oldest building of the region. While the building was extensively remodeled in 1938 and 2004, the remnants of the building are certainly evident of the importance of the region in the bygone era.
Figure 2: The original construction blueprint for the building
(Source: Local Heritage Register: The Post and Telegraph Offices, 2020)
Originally located at 35 River Street, the building is a two story masonry construction with a substantial amount of classical detailing. Ranging from the column capitals and the brick patters on the central tower; the main building has only one entry facility with a posterior exist gate. The description of the property is “Lot 15 on RP729825” and comprises of a land area of approximately 2850m2 (Local Heritage Register: The Post and Telegraph Offices, 2020).
The building on the site of the premises was initially identified for any visible defects and non conformance to the Australian Standards and the Building Code of Australia. In terms of the preliminary results, the condition of the building was found to be not deemed to satisfy and alternative solutions were recommended, which have been discussed further on in the report. The building premises were classified as being part of Category 5, which is “An office building used for professional or commercial purposes, excluding buildings of Class 6, 7, 8 or 9.”
A number of visible vertical cracks were identified on the block works around the central tower. The most probable reason behind the cracks could relate to corrosion of the steel members behind the pillars supporting the central tower. It is recommended that the condition of central tower is certainly a matter of urgency and would have to be investigated at the earliest. Classified as a critical non conformance in accordance with the provisions of the BCA and AS, the central tower and its non conformities were a threat to public safety and could comprise the structural stability of the entire building (Standards Australia, 2020).
The mortar joints along the northern wall were also found to be comprised of both vertical and horizontal cracks along with frets on the exterior wall. The most probable cause in this regard could be the reinforcement of the spalling being the bed joint of the mortar. It is to be noted that the northern wall was also classified as a critical non conformance to the codes of building construction and safety as enforce within Queensland and would further warrant urgent investigation by structural engineers. The interior walls, however, appeared to be in sound condition despite the presence of variance in the conditions. Certain areas were found to have been affected by damp.
The building comprised of four rooms located around the central tower and designed in a cyclical manner. In terms of the floor area, the cumulative area was determined to be approximately 450m2 in both the first and the second storeys. Based on the provisions of the BCA, the key requirements for a building premise to be accessible include minimum access to and within the rooms, elimination of fall hazards and slip or trip accidents along with unrestricted egress in the case of an emergency situation (Queensland Building And Construction Commission, 2015). However, a major issue was identified within the building in this regard, as accessibility to and within he rooms along with the possibility of egress was reduced to a large extent by the positioning of the screen doors. Furthermore, the screen doors were found to include latches that had locks towards the inner portions and could also be swung inwards. Both the aspects could cause significant delay during an emergency situation and would have to be modified at the earliest by the building authorities.
The inclusion of lock systems that comprised of knob type latch handles could also stand to be an issue the case of a crisis or an emergency situation. It would be recommended that the knob type locks be replaced using lever type handles that enhance the accessibility to and within the rooms surrounding the central tower. Another major non conformance of moderate nature was the evident trip hazard in the form of a step located 110m down to the external paving level. While slope ramps were incorporated on the two sides of the external doorways, the placement of the step would have to be modified. Alternatively, a warning sign could be placed along the doorway that is clearly visible to anyone coming in or going out of the doorway (Jeamwatthanachai, Wald and Wills, 2019). Furthermore, emergency lighting systems and the provision of an adequate number of exit and entry signs were also missing from the room premises. While the signs were visible on the outer portions of the building, some of the signs were evidently very high. An audio system was present that read out directions in important points of the entire building. However, it would be recommended that Braille language is integrated within the signs used and the heights are reduced to a physically accessible point.
Moving onto the sanitation and washroom accessibility, the total number of urinals, enclosed washrooms and wash basins would suffice for up to approximately 50 to 60 occupants. However, the absence of an adequate number of enclosed washrooms for disabled individuals was a major area of non conformance. The enclosed washrooms also did not comply with the currently enforced recommendations as mentioned by the AS and the BCA in the context of comprising of sufficient width for people in wheelchairs to access in an independent manner (Queensland Building And Construction Commission, 2015). The most important recommendation in this regard would relate to the construction of additional enclosed washrooms for males and females that comprise of the specified width area. The lighting within the enclosed washrooms was also found be unsatisfactory by nature, as certain portions of the washroom were well lit and certain portions were poorly lit. It could lead to a moderate risk of trip or fall hazard and the building authorities would have to incorporate additional lights into the washrooms.
Considering that the building is classified within Category 5, it requires integrating all facilities and additional constructions that make the premises completely accessible to people with disabilities. The accessible path of travel, as defined by the BCA, refers to clearly guided pathways that lead the individual from the external doorway to the internal hallway. Moreover, the Mackay Post Office also has a parking bay towards the exterior of the southern wall, which also lacks a accessible path to the main entry doorway on the front side. Furthermore, BCA recommendations for constructional purposes in the context of improving the accessibility for individuals with disabilities also require the categorised buildings to integrate accessible ramps with slopes that are not too steep. However, the slopes provided on the two sides of the eternal doorway are relatively steep and could lead to potential fall hazards for people on wheel chairs. The step ramps and the landings would have to be modified in accordance to the existent guidelines to prevent fall hazards and improve accessibility.
Fire services and equipment were observed in accordance to the provisions contained in AS 1851. However, the adequacy considering the potential implications of a fire hazard and the size of the rooms surrounding the central tower were not enough. Moreover, the rooms were not separated from the main hallway and the exterior walls of the rooms themselves also touched various partitions of the other rooms. This was a major critical non conformance as the occurrence of a fire emergency could potentially lead to significant damage to public safety and health. The reconstruction process would have to be initiated at the earliest along with allotment boundaries on each side of the room walls that are adjacent to other rooms to prevent the spreading of fire as per guidelines contained in the AS. Health and amenities were also found to be a major issue within the building premises. The air conditioning system within the building comprised of the traditional ducted configuration. It would be recommended that the ducts are replaced with packaged or split air conditioning devices to ensure that the quality of the air within the rooms is safe and breathable.
Energy efficiency was also a major issue in this regard, since the building is located in the Climate Zone 1. Moreover, the age of the building would further add to the problems as the indoor air cooling would potentially be existent throughout the year. It is important to ensure that the R Values achieved are of sufficient levels in accordance to the provided guidelines maintaining a value of R4.2. In terms of determining the correct R values, the roof sheeting along with the internal coverage areas would have to be removed and reconstructed.
Additionally, a number of ancillary buildings were also found to be in the surrounding vicinity of the post office. It would be safe to assume that the buildings are compliant with the provisions and guidelines of BCA as they were identified as relatively modern and new constructions. Most of the buildings belonged to the Class 10 category and were found to be relatively well separated from the central area ofthe post office.
It is to be noted that all the advice contained herein is provided in good faith and in accordance to the provisions contained in AS and BCA. The auditing entity would not be held responsible for any additional interpretations by third parties in this context and other surveyo0rs that make future audits of the said building.
A number of recommendations were identified that have been briefly discussed in the aforementioned sections. The major areas of non conformance have been highlighted as follows:
In conclusion, the disability accessibility audit helps in understanding the current status of the accessibility and the usefulness of the buildings developed for the people with impairments. Clear comprehension about the building development helps in gaining insights upon the required areas of improvement. Based on the information gathered regarding the status of the buildings an evidence based action plan can be developed. Depending on the audit recommendations are developed through which the building requirements can be fulfilled successfully. It also helps in developing standards for the best practices setting the benchmark for enhancing accessibility of the services.
Local Heritage Register: The Post and Telegraph Offices. (2020). Retrieved 6 May 2020, from https://www.mackay.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/211347/Local_Heritage_Register_-_The_Post_Office.pdf
Queensland Legislation. (2020). EQUAL OPPORTUNITY IN PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT ACT 1992. Retrieved 6 May 2020, from https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/pdf/asmade/act-1992-010
Standards Australia. (2020). AS 1428.1-2009. Retrieved 6 May 2020, from https://www.standards.org.au/standards-catalogue/sa-snz/building/me-064/as--1428-dot-1-2009
Jeamwatthanachai, W., Wald, M., & Wills, G. (2019). Building rating system: an instrument for building accessibility measurement for better indoor navigation by blind people. Journal of Enabling Technologies.
Queensland Building And Construction Commission. (2015). Building Codes of Australia (BCA) Classes of buildings. Retrieved 6 May 2020, from https://www.qbcc.qld.gov.au/building-codes-australia-bca-classes-buildings
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