Division over $7.6m rescue bid
Should the Nelson City Council take ownership of the Nelson School of Music?
The Nelson School of Music has unveiled a $7.69million plan to strengthen, rebuild, expand and partly re-equip its Nile Street buildings and says the way to do so could be for the Nelson City Council to become the owner.
But the man called in 14 years ago to rescue the school from financial collapse has warned that council ownership is the path to disintegration.
School trust board chairman Neil Deans told the 20 people who turned up to a midday public meeting in the auditorium yesterday that the school had a "once in a generation opportunity".
"It's a fairly substantial investment, but we see it as an investment in the future."
However Ian Kearney, the financial troubleshooter credited with saving the school at the end of the 1980s and current chairman of its endowment trust, said council ownership would be the 110-year-old school's death knell.
The plan handed out at the meeting includes not only roof tile replacement and earthquake strengthening of the main building but also an ambitious programme to remove and replace adjoining Rainey House, refurbish the auditorium and the attached Kidson building, repair the pipe organ and replace some other instruments.
The board hopes to persuade the Nelson City Council to lock in enough funding for all the work to go ahead in the next three years, and to get the Tasman District Council to chime in with funding reflecting the 30 per cent share of the school's use by Tasman residents.
It is asking supporters to back its plans and lobby the two councils, and will be sending them information to help with submissions on the city council's long-term plan, which close on May 16. Submissions to the TDC have closed.
Mr Deans said earthquake strengthening and roof tile replacement went hand-in-hand and were "a matter of some urgency".
But the board would be remiss if it didn't take the opportunity to refurbish, improve and carry out a rebuilding programme, acknowledging the School of Music wasn't just the renowned auditorium.
The backstage area was "grossly inadequate" and proper rehearsal and teaching facilities were needed to "take us to where we believe we need to go".
He said the council had set aside "substantial money" but it would "make their life easier" if their capital investments were in buildings they owned. It was looking at a similar arrangement to that used in sports facilities, where it owned them and sporting codes operated from them at a discounted rate.
"Obviously our concern is to make sure that the Nelson School of Music retains its independence and is able to operate in a way that serves our needs into the future."
Mr Deans said the immediate need was to make sure that the councils set aside money in their long-term plans to provide cornerstone support.
"Then we'll be coming back and talking to other parties as well, including Government in respect of earthquake strengthening."
The board hadn't formed a final view on ownership but irrespective of that, it had to put itself on a better financial footing. Maintaining the auditorium was "quite a financial millstone" for an organisation whose primary purpose was performance and education.
Former trust board chairman Richard Rainey said he believed the school wouldn't ever make ends meet unless it transferred ownership of "the bricks and mortar" and former director Bob Bickerton said he would support council ownership, but only if a "set of purposes" for the school were locked in to the deal.
However, Mr Kearney warned that council ownership was a risk, and said the cost of earthquake strengthening was not daunting.
"Long-term, you simply don't trust council 10-year plans. You don't even trust council one-year plans. The School of Music has got a future while it's independent. Once it's a lessee of a council building, it's got no long-term future," he said.
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