Investigation into $310k Wānaka tiles 'failing' after recent installation

by Lauren Pattemore - May 09, 2024

New tiles on Wānaka's Te Ata Maumahara Millennium Path are already chipped and cracking just eight months after the final one was laid, and a member of the public claims it's due to a missed step by contractors.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council commissioned the $310,000 tile refurbishment project to replace the original tiles installed in 2021 to celebrate the new millennium.

The tiles were etched with prominent dates from the past few hundred years of history.

The council is the midst of a three-months-long-and-counting investigation into why some of them are now cracking.

Multiple tiles have been pulled from the path.

A member of the public noticed a problem with the tiling work back in November, and sent a picture to the council via its Snap, Send and Solve online service.

The person's concern: a lack of silicone expansion joints between the tiles.

"I said, 'Hey, what's going on?'. This is really bad form and well below industry standards, and it's failing in front of my eyes'."

They say in warmer months the outdoor tiles will expand in the heat, and then contract in the cooler months.

By using grout, rather than silicon, it "puts a huge amount of pressure on the adhesion and something's gotta give", which is why the tiles are cracking, they say. 

The person recalls tapping a few of the tiles along the pathway at the time and says a few were already loose. They also noted that expansion joints were installed underneath the tiles, but not in-between. 

"Even if each of those tiles only expanded half a mil (millimetre), in the heat, that's a huge amount of expansion over the lateral length...They (council contractors) had gone and laid all those tiles and put no expansion joints in between the tiles, and grouted every joint."

Photographed today: a crack formed in the blank tile beside 1860, in between the two tiles is a silicone expansion joint - put in place after concerns were raised with the council.

The member of the public contacted Crux with their concerns this week, asking to remain anonymous due to their project management experience within the town.

In an email sent on February 16, QLDC's project manager Maddy Dowman acknowledges the council shared the individual's concerns about the condition of the tiles and the lack of expansion joints. 

The email confirms an investigation was underway, and Crux understands it remains ongoing. 

The member of the public says since they highlighted lack of expansion joints some have been put in retrospectively. 

A chipped tile, as seen by Crux's source, and the later-laid silicone expansion joint.

On Tuesday, QLDC communications advisor Sam White responded briefly to questions sent by Crux on the issue, although a request for an interview with Ms Dowman was declined with Mr White saying she was unavailable at the time.

According to Mr White, all the tiles were "fixed in place and grouted as per specification" and that "expansion joints were included in the design specification and the installation". 

Mr White confirms the main contractor in charge of the wider Wānaka Lakefront Development Plan has lifted some tiles from the pathway to investigate why they have developed cracks.

"Timber has been placed where tiles have been lifted to ensure safety for path users. All costs of this investigation, which is still underway, are being covered by the contractor in line with the defects liability period," he says.

Four pieces of timber have been laid on the track in place of the removed tiles.

Wānaka-based Councillor Lyal Cocks says a resident came to him about the cracking tiles after the last Wānaka-Upper Clutha Community Board meeting, but as yet he has not had a chance himself to go and look at them.

Main image: Tiles cracking on Wānaka's Te Ata Maumahara Millennium Path.

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