Venue shortage deepens after school of music closure

Closures leave city without concert venue

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 09:00 20/12/2013
 Nelson School of Music
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
FUTURE LOOKS SHAKY: The Nelson School of Music is the latest city building to be closed due to earthquake fears.

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Earthquake woes have closed the Nelson School of Music auditorium earlier than planned, leaving Nelson without a large concert venue. It follows the closure of the Trafalgar Centre a week ago for similar reasons.

The school of music is now also classified as an earthquake-prone building after the Nelson City Council issued a Section 124 notice yesterday, which left the school's board with little option but to close the auditorium until earthquake strengthening work was done, chairman Neil Deans said.

The decision was made at the school of music's board meeting this week, and announced this morning.

Mr Deans said after seeking legal and engineering advice, it believed that managed closure of the building was the most responsible course of action.

"We had no choice but to do this and put people first," he said.

It has impacted on next month's events at the school for the Woollaston Nelson Jazz & Blues Festival, but organisers have moved quickly to secure alternative venues, festival director Liam Ryan said.

Concerts by international jazz violinist Fiona Pears and the Jazz Crusaders' concert have been moved to Old St John's Church in Hardy St.

"This has been a very sudden announcement late in our planning, but the show must go on.

"We were looking forward to having the concerts in the Nelson School of Music but this is jazz - we have had to improvise," Mr Ryan said.

Mr Deans said the notice was not an absolute surprise, but coming hard on the heels of the decision on the Trafalgar Centre added gravity to the situation around Nelson's venues.

"The advice we've been given is that the situation with the building is not as severe as the Trafalgar Centre. The big issue between us and them is that we knew the work needed to be done and we are going to do it.

With the Trafalgar Centre there's a great deal of uncertainty," Mr Deans said.

He said the upside of the decision was that the school might now have planned strengthening work done sooner, rather than later. The building is required to be strengthened to 67 per cent of the new building standard (NBS). Engineers' reports estimate the building to be 27 to 40 per cent of the NBS.

"What it's done is add a degree of urgency to complete the plans. In some ways it will give us the ability to operate sooner," Mr Deans said.

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A detailed plan to upgrade the building was already in train and funding has been secured for the multimillion-dollar strengthening work, but no timeframe had yet been set. The board was confident that it would have the resource consents needed to start the work programme in six to 12 months.

"We know in outline what needs to be done but it's complicated by the fact it's a category 1 heritage building," Mr Deans said.

He said the school was already seeking other venues for forthcoming events, and it wanted to be as open with the community as possible in its search for options.

If the school was still unavailable by next year's annual Winter Festival, it would stage it in alternative venues.

It was considering using its own Rainey House as a concert venue, St John's where the Steinway piano may possibly be housed, increased use of the Theatre Royal and possibly the cathedral.

Mr Deans said comment on the cathedral's suitability in an earthquake-shy era was up to the church.

He said plans for a trust to oversee the school of music and Theatre Royal as one performing arts entity might need to be brought forward or reviewed because of the closure, Mr Deans said. "We have the Theatre Royal to use and we were looking forward to working in close conjunction with the venue, which is great for theatre but not music events to some extent."

Mr Deans said the school was an integral part of Nelson and the board saw a great future for it.

"I feel positive that it's a time to review what we represent and how we deliver the best for Nelson, and Nelson will rise to the challenge."

Regular updates on alternative venues for concerts, orchestras and choirs and music lessons will be posted on the NSOM website nsom.ac.nz.

Dates, times and ticketing arrangements for the jazz festival have not changed. Visit nelsonjazzfest.co.nz.

- Nelson

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