OPINION: No matter how the Scottish Hall debacle plays out, someone somewhere is going to end up paying a lot of money to address its many and varied problems.
A significant upgrade is required before the public can use the hall again and we're talking more than $1 million to bring it up to current building code requirements - we're talking higher standards of the Buildings Act, including seismic strengthening, new wheelchair access, fire warning systems and insulation.
While the Invercargill City Council - which has already spent more than $385,000 on it since 1978 - has promised a donation to the new owners towards any work, that'll be a drop in the bucket compared with what will be required.
The "how do you solve a problem like the Scottish Hall" issue has been floating around since 2007 - in fact, the hall was given a stay of execution in the late 1990s - but it's time this situation is resolved. Enough is enough.
In March 2007 council chief executive Richard King said the hall, built in 1956, was not worth keeping open because users could be accommodated elsewhere. Use was down and maintenance costs were up. Understandably, considering it had undergone a $15 million upgrade, the council was keen to see more use of the Civic Theatre.
Now the Scottish Hall issue is heading to the High Court, from where we await a judgment that ensures the hall is no longer the council's problem when it's handed to the Southland Scottish Hall Charitable Trust, whose members must be some of the most patient people in the province.
Last September we reported that the matter was supposedly off to the High Court - a story eerily similar to the one that ran on page 3 yesterday. At the time, trustee Janet Robertshawe expected the issue would be resolved in a few months. Well, it's been more than a year and the case still hasn't been heard. We can only imagine how frustrated those trustees must be given that, a year later, it still isn't resolved.
The trust was set up in 2008 in response to the council's plans to close - and eventually demolish - the central-city hall. But the trust has operated in limbo since then, despite being promised ownership of the property, because . . . well, we're not quite sure.
Mr King maintains the word of the trust deed is vague and obscure. He emphasises the council is keen to transfer ownership and, not surprisingly, financial responsibility as quickly as possible, but if four years is "quickly" then we'd hate to see what a slow response is.
The council wants to be sure it won't be liable for any additional costs once the deed is transferred, beyond what it has already promised. Mr King has said the matter is "extremely complicated" because the council doesn't want to hand it over to the trust only to have it returned in a few years.
Well, actually, that's probably the best outcome. It doesn't seem to be that confusing. On one hand you have a council keen to be rid of a costly asset. On the other, thanks to the support of thousands who signed a petition demanding the hall be saved, you have a trust willing to take on responsibility.
Give it to the trust. If they make it work, then great, Invercargill has a fully functioning hall that's valued and used by the community in the centre of town. If it doesn't work - after all, hall usage has changed and there are other similar buildings in the city - then we're back to the same situation as in 2007 when the council first proposed pulling it down. Then it can be pulled down because it's clearly no longer practical or suitable.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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