Artists ordered to vacate Woolshed space

BY ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 10:32 16/10/2012

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Porirua's arts community has suffered another blow, with occupants of the Gear Woolshed being ordered to leave the unstable building indefinitely by December 31.

This follows the closure of Porirua Little Theatre in August.

The former stables to Gear Homestead has housed the Woolshed Potters downstairs, and the Kapiti Camera Club, Gear Woolshed Fibrecrafts and Attic Artists upstairs since 1981.

The building was flagged as an earthquake risk by owner Porirua City Council last August and was inspected by engineers and architects over the summer.

By February the council knew it was a "Pandora's box" of possible structural problems, according to a PCC report tabled last week, but tenants were told only on October 5 of the December 31 leaving date.

The Woolshed's walls are sagging and its roof, floors and foundations need upgrading, making it vulnerable in case of earthquake or fire.

The council's failure to maintain the building over the years has contributed to its poor conditions, structural engineer Roy Taylor says.

To make the ground floor sound will cost at least $362,000 but the full amount will not be known until exploratory work is done when the tenants move out.

A further $278,000 will be needed to make the upstairs "Attic" habitable. The building cannot be demolished because it is an outbuilding of the Historic Places Trust-listed homestead.

No money has been allocated in the council's 10-year Long Term Plan to fix the building, so it may be simply braced and left empty, councillor Euon Murrell says.

"There is no certainty about what will happen inside."

The council will work with tenants to apply for grants to fund remedial work, Mr Murrell says.

While sympathetic to the arts tenants, there is a health and safety issue at stake.

"I don't want it on my conscience that something would happen while people are in there."

Forty supporters of the Woolshed arts groups attended a council meeting last Thursday to protest at the haste with which decisions were being made, and to ask to be rehoused by the council.

An initial report recommended only the Woolshed Potters be rehoused, in the council's only available building, the former Challenge petrol station kiosk on Hagley St.

But appeals from upstairs tenants representatives Dorothy Mitchell and Phil O'Connell convinced councillors to aid the Attic tenants to find new venues.

Woolshed Potters president Jo Pohatu was dismayed that tenants were given the council's action plan less than a week before the council meeting.

"We don't think that being given six days' notice to read a report that says we need to move out by the end of the year is enough time."

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December is a busy time for the potters, with Christmas sales and members away on holiday, so is poor timing for the move.

Engineers recommended in February that the Woolshed's problems be addressed within six months, and the failure to act has possibly made these problems critical, council property manager Greg Patience said in a report.

Mr Patience told Kapi-Mana News the need to consult with council business units, his own workload and his inexperience in the role contributed to the five- month delay between his report being drafted in May to its presentation to council last week.

- Kapi-Mana News

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