Plan to reopen centre debated

WAY FORWARD: The Trafalgar Centre has been closed since last December.
WAY FORWARD: The Trafalgar Centre has been closed since last December.

Nelson city councillors were today discussing a plan to appoint a project manager to get the earthquake-vulnerable Trafalgar Centre reopened, possibly for a fraction of the estimated $27 million cost.

Critics have flayed the council over the centre's sudden closure just before Christmas, and its staff reports on the building's foundations have become an embarrassment, proven inaccurate by people associated with the centre's beginnings in the early 1970s.

Further mortification has come from the fact that the council spent $7m building the centre's southern extension three years ago - the only section now thought to need work both above and below ground.

The council has said the closure was because of the risk of the building's "catastrophic failure" in a quake while holding up to 4000 people.

It has forced the relocation of the Nelson Giants basketball team to the ill-suited Saxton Stadium, and the loss of several events, with no indication of when or even if the centre will reopen.

Today, councillors were discussing a series of recommendations in a report from infrastructure group manager Alec Louverdis.

He suggested that plans for the centre's northern end extension be downscaled; that $450,000 be approved to appoint a project manager, with remedial work to be approved by the council and publicly tendered; and that expenditure be funded from existing provisions in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 capital budgets.

The project manager would drive the investigation process needed for a concept design and deliver the initial plan to the council, Louverdis wrote.

His report does not include costings, but in a piece for today's Nelson Leader, Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese says that nearly $24m of the projected strengthening cost was for below-ground work across the site.

"The main hall, northern end and Civil Defence sections of the building are likely to need above-ground work only," she wrote. "With the new advice, a solution now looks practically and financially viable."

In his report to today's meeting, Louverdis said a technical working party project team of council staff and nine outside experts met on May 7. It found that there were "structural deficiencies" in all parts of the building, which would be exacerbated by liquefaction and consequent lateral spread in an earthquake.

The project team said an acceptable way forward would be to do above-ground works to improve tolerance to ground movements, and reduce the requirement for underground work, noting that "the southern end will likely need above- and below-ground work".

It also called for additional investigative work to better understand the scope of the project and the options for reopening the centre, which it described as a building of value, with good qualities, which was worth remediating.

Louverdis said external consultants would be needed, with the next stage to investigate the options identified by the working party for the council to decide the work it wanted to do.

The council has provided $10.2m in its 2012-22 long-term plan for extending the centre's northern end. Louverdis said it was unlikely that the council could fund the extension as well as the remedial work.

He concluded that the centre had been programmed to close this year for the northern end extension. Instead of this, further investigative work would be done to allow for a concept design. "This should lead shortly thereafter to detailed design and remedial work getting under way."

If the council approved the appointment of a project manager, the job would be advertised, he said.

The Nelson Mail