Trafalgar Centre shut for good?

Last updated 13:30 14/12/2013
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GOODBYE: Nelson Giants volunteer Heather Walker and Nelson Giant player and coaching development officer Sam Dempster moving equipment out of the Trafalgar Centre yesterday.

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The high risk of fatalities in an earthquake left the closure of the Trafalgar centre as the only option, council leaders say.

The centre, a symbol of civic pride and community effort when it was built in the 1970s for less than $650,000, was shut yesterday and faces an uncertain future.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese said the decision was a result of engineering and legal advice.

"The advice we have received identifies that if the Trafalgar Centre is in use during a moderate earthquake, the risk of loss of life is high. The only appropriate response to managing this risk is to close the centre to public use immediately," she said.

The news shocked Trafalgar Centre founder Brian Mills, who as a member of Nelson Jaycees, argued for a major indoor venue for Nelson in the 1960s. After years of fundraising and debate, the Trafalgar Centre opened in 1973.

Mr Mills said he had "lived, slept and dreamt" the project. "Oh my God. Eight years of work. I can't believe it."

A decision on whether to strengthen the Trafalgar Centre to meet new building standards, or pull it down, will be made in the New Year.

Ms Reese said yesterday it was too early to say what the long term prospects were for the building.

"We've no answers yet because we need more information on the costs to strengthen the building."

Councillor Pete Rainey said the centre had been operating much better since the $7 million upgrade to the southern end of the building in 2009, but the council was in a position where it had no option but to close.

Decisions to spend on the last upgrade were made before earthquake issues such as liquefaction came to the fore, Mr Rainey said.

He has been behind the push in recent years for a purpose-built regional performing arts centre in Nelson.

He said it was his view that a new venue for Nelson was "definitely not off the agenda", but the council had a big job ahead in dealing with the centre's future.

"All we have done at this stage is make a decision to close it. The pathway ahead is yet to be determined. It's a very complicated position and we have a lot to consider," Mr Rainey said.

Council staff were now making every attempt to find other suitable venues for those who already have bookings in the coming months, including Saxton Stadium.

Talks were under way with the Marlborough Events Centre, whose management have indicated they would do what they could to accommodate pre-booked events.

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The council has also allocated a "significant sum" for temporary seating for the Saxton Stadium, which was built as a participation venue and not a spectator venue, to work in the interim with Nelson's basketball fraternity.

The Fico Finance Nelson Giants basketball team has been based at the Trafalgar Centre for more than three decades.

Giants director Steve Fitchett said after yesterday's announcement closure would be disruptive, but "not necessarily bad".

He was aware some of the supporters were "getting jittery" about using the centre, when questions were first raised about its seismic strength. Mr Fitchett appreciated that the council was doing all it could to accommodate them and others, particularly the move to put in temporary seating at the Saxton Stadium to serve the same 2000-strong crowd capacity as the Trafalgar Centre.

He said the Giants had committed financially to the league next year.

Mr Fitchett was to meet with the council on Monday morning to discuss finer details of the arrangement.

"I'm very happy they're working hard on this but the tricky bit will be matching the programmes from the Trafalgar Centre bookings and those already booked at Saxton Stadium.

"That will have to be sorted, but it's a small community and we'll all just have to work together," Mr Fitchett said.

A planned upgrade was put on hold in August for the new council to decide whether to quake-strengthen the venue or pull it down.

The report on the centre's future outlined possible earthquake strengthening requirements and potential for liquefaction at the site. Ms Reese said it could reach a point when the council would consider it did not make economic sense to spend money on strengthening it.

"I can't underestimate how big an issue this is. It is a significant issue that has come from left field."

The council had called a special meeting for next Thursday, with the aim of directing staff to help make a decision in the New Year. One popular event has already been relocated. The mayoral Christmas dinner will now be at the Nelson College hall.

- The Nelson Mail

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