Air force museum available for convention sector

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2013
Air Force Museum
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax
TOP SPOT: Two decommissioned Skyhawks take pride of place in the nearly-completed wing of the Air Force Museum at Wigram.

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A $14.3 million expansion to the Air Force Museum at Wigram opens next month and the extra 6500 square metres will be a boon to the city's bruised convention sector.

The 14-month construction has more than doubled the area of the museum.

The new wing was originally planned to make way for extra aircraft and displays, but that plan is on hold for at least three years so the space can be used as a substitute convention venue that can cater for up to 1000 people.

The museum has partnered with Christchurch City Council-owned convention and catering company Vbase, which lost the use of the city convention centre and the town hall following the quakes.

A new convention centre is an anchor project of the Government's city blueprint, but construction is unlikely to start until sometime next year.

Air Force Museum business manager Dave Clearwater said part of the new wing will be used to house orphaned artefacts and exhibits from Canterbury organisations that are unable to hold them because of quake-damaged premises as well. Meanwhile, two decommissioned Skyhawk jet fighters have been moved into the area even as tradesmen apply the finishing touches to the massive extension. An Aermacchi jet trainer will join them soon, he said.

The building is scheduled to be officially opened by the Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, on February 19.

Its first conference, for Steel Construction New Zealand, will be held a few days later.

Clearwater was pleased the project had been finished in time and was happy that the space would help the city. "When they first started talking about coming here it was a hole in the ground.

"It's good to get some good structures up in the city and it looks bloody good."

There had been a lot of interest in holding events at the newly-expanded museum with many booked in for this year. Others were enquiring about next year, he said. The museum would not continue holding conferences after the city's convention centre was built, he said.

The space would be filled with aircraft and other exhibits that have previously not fit.

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