Funding a relief for school of music

The Nelson School of Music is pleased to have the backing of the Nelson City Council, after fearing its operating budget would be cut.

The school was closed last December after it was found to be unsafe as an earthquake-prone building in need of strengthening.

School of music chair Neil Deans said the school had been under the impression its operating grant would be cut from $120,000 to $40,000.

"Although there had been a proposal to reduce our operating budget there are some plans afoot to address that issue, which is really good news," he said. "It remains a concern that the school of music remain viable in the meantime, but we understand from the council that it is their intention to make sure that is the case."

He said the school had faced a significant reduction in income because it was no longer operating a facility that was hired out commercially, but fixed costs such as insurance still had to covered and staff numbers had been cut from five to two.

Mayor Rachel Reese has confirmed the council's commitment to the school of music and making sure it has the funding to carry out its work in the community.

The misunderstanding arose as the council needed the school to submit a proposal detailing what services it could continue to provide while operating out of different premises because of auditing requirements.

The report was not submitted in time for the Draft Annual Plan so the council reduced the grant to $40,000 as a preliminary figure until more information was received.

Deans said with the council's funding the school would still be able to hold the annual Winter Festival and provide for orchestras and choirs to operate in venues other than the school auditorium.

Reese said she had also talked to Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson to seek government funding for the school and she was hopeful this would follow once the strengthening and refurbishment work on the school was under way.

The council has set aside $1.431 million for strengthening work on the building, but this has been deferred for a year in the Draft Annual Plan.

Reese said she wanted to get the work under way so the building could be opened again as soon as possible, but work was not expected to be finished before July next year and the council could not allocate money to a project in a given year if it was not going to be spent.

Deans said the board was bringing a project team together.

"We are just in the late stages of negotiation with the council about the project team to do the building and redevelopment," he said. "We are keen to work that one through with the council. It's taking longer than we would like and I think it's pretty urgent to get on with that now. We have certainly been ready to go for some time and it is just a case of satisfying the council that we've got the parties together to make that happen."

Reese said it was fair to say the school had been holding off with its concept plans as it had been expected the school would work alongside the Theatre Royal so funds had been "coupled up" for both projects.

However, with the Theatre Royal ownership being tied up in the High Court the funds were separated so the school could progress with its work.

Deans said they were still in talks with the council about how the redevelopment would proceed. "The question has arisen whether we proceed with all of the building development or see if we can do that in two stages as the council would have preferred and that is a matter we are still working through," he said.

In the meantime, $150,000 for development plans has been set aside in the Draft Annual Plan for the coming year.

Reese said the funds could be brought forward. "If they manage to fast track this then we'll be more than accommodating in moving it forward," she said, as it was about "‘getting this project to the point where I can say to the ratepayers of Nelson this is a good investment of your funds; let's hand the money over as you can see what you are buying".

Deans said he was pleased to also have the same level of support from the Tasman District Council as in previous years.