Council quiet on town hall strengthening spend

16:00, Feb 14 2014

Wellington City Council has refused to reveal how much it has already spent on town hall strengthening work, which has been put on hold after a budget blowout of about $17 million.

The Dominion Post revealed yesterday that the cost to strengthen the hall had ballooned from a budgeted $43m to about $60m.

City councillors will have to go back to the debating chamber later this year to decide if it is worth spending that much.

They could look at cheaper alternatives, or at replacing the town hall on the same or a new site.

The council intended to use a base isolation system to bring the strengthened hall up to 140 per cent of the new building standards (NBS).

Engineers have assessed the building as meeting just 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the NBS. Anything under 33 per cent is deemed earthquake-prone.


Work has now stopped, just three months into the three-year programme, as the council considers its options.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said a democratic decision would select the best option.

"[It] may well be a lower level of strengthening which will still protect life but will also protect the ratepayer's pocket."

She said the delay in earthquake strengthening provided an opportunity for the score for the third Hobbit film to be recorded in the hall.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra contributed to the soundtrack of second film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

NZSO chief executive Christopher Blake acknowledged that councillors faced difficult decisions about the future of the hall because of the costs involved in making it safe.

"We are hopeful that a way can be found to secure this building and its acoustic qualities for future generations."

Concert producer Stewart Macpherson said he would not like to see the hall, and its 1600-seater main auditorium, demolished.

"But I'm a pragmatist really . . . there has to be a top limit on whatever the council decides to spend.

"But I do say that if they can justify whatever the current costs are, they should keep it because it is unique from every other facility in Wellington."

Convention management New Zealand director Dean Bradley said councillors should keep in mind that they were playing with ratepayers' money. "It's going to be hard for the council to justify spending $60m to ratepayers.

"It's a beautiful building, but for that amount of money maybe the time has come to keep the facade and build a purpose-built complex."


What councillors say 

Ray Ahipene-Mercer: "This cost escalation means we must be prepared to consider a full rebuild."

Jo Coughlan: "$60 million is a considerable amount of money . . . we need to do work to see what the best spend is for the city going forwards."

Paul Eagle: "[Council staff] are warming up Wellington to say ‘If you want to have a new concert venue, you can't have your old town hall'. Wellington needs to decide [that], not unelected city managers."

Andy Foster: "We need to make sure we are fully informed before making a decision."

David Lee: "The town hall is an iconic category 1 heritage building but we don't want to be writing blank cheques. We need to look at all possible options."

Justin Lester: "I am not going to support knocking it down . . . the cost has not been confirmed . . . we may choose another strengthening option."

Simon Marsh: "When you have a house that is not liveable and the cost to make it liveable is as much as building a new house, you have to consider building the new one or making some major changes."

Iona Pannett: "We knew the $43 million might increase . . . We should not be getting hysterical."

Helene Ritchie: "I support ongoing contractual negotiations in relation to this. Then we will look at the outcome."

Malcolm Sparrow: "We need to ascertain how much money the bulk of ratepayers are prepared to pay. It is going to affect their pockets."

Simon Woolf: "I think we should look at other options in relation to earthquake strengthening [but] we haven't finished assessing it yet. It would be very disappointing to lose a piece of architecture which is iconic to Wellington."

Nicola Young: "We need to look at all options, including what I'd like to call a Reichstag solution: keeping the facade with a purpose-built inside. It would be a shame to lose the auditorium."

Mark Peck and Sarah Free were unavailable for comment.

The Dominion Post