Trafalgar Centre may have met its Waterloo

23:29, Mar 12 2014

OPINION: It's often said if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Let us hope the $27-million jolt delivered to Nelson residents this week is similarly charged - too bad to be possible.

A Trafalgar Centre repair and strengthening bill in the order of just that would have been a bitter pill for the council to swallow at a time when rates scrutiny has never been higher. But presumably the money would have been found in order to "save" a valuable community sporting and cultural asset.

However, the estimated $27m cost - in itself representing more than 3 per cent extra on the rates take - is a game-changer. There would be little support for spending anything like that simply in order to shore up the old building. Engineers' concerns about the relatively new southern extension's perceived inadequacies are especially troubling.

The council is to be commended for its openness on this issue. It has released a significant amount of information in order to background its decision to close the centre as of last year due to public safety concerns.

Former mayor Aldo Miccio is seeking political traction on the issue. He suggests the council was wrong to close the centre when some other earthquake-vulnerable buildings have remained open. He has every right to question the council's actions, as does any citizen, and raises some valid points. However, simply attaching an "enter at your own risk"-type notice to the door of the centre would not absolve the council from primary responsibilities - moral, ethical, legal - for public safety.

Faced with strong legal and detailed engineering advice, the council had no option. In the event - however unlikely - of public harm in an earthquake, the council would have taken a hiding in court had it ignored such strong advice and reopened an inadequately strengthened centre. It is time to move on from questioning the council's motives on that point.

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Mayor Rachel Reese is calling for further information on the options. If there is a more cost-effective solution she wants to hear it. However, if fixing the stadium to the recommended 67 per cent of National Building Standards is confirmed as costing more than a complete rebuild (at 100 per cent of NBS!) then the current stadium's days are numbered. A new build is estimated to cost some $24m, excluding any unusual ground preparation.

Main question: where to rebuild, if at all. The current site is regarded as prone to liquefaction. Other sites such as Wakatu carpark and Trafalgar Park, probably are too.

There is currently sufficient land in the vicinity of the WOW complex-Mitre 10 Mega, but the chief appeal of the Trafalgar Centre is its proximity to the Nelson CBD. If a rebuild had to happen outside the central city, then far better to base it at Saxton Field.

Council estimates put a like-for-like conversion of Saxton Stadium at $4m, or an improved facility incorporating conference facilities at $7m. A compelling case could be made for either of these options, especially given that location's history of shared costs with Tasman. It is clear the council is working hard to find the most cost-effective option. It's transparency is both refreshing and welcome.

Nelson