Lye Centre funding secured by council

Andrew Patterson, Barbara McKerrow, Harry Duynhoven and Lance Girling-Butcher stand around a model of the new Len Lye Gallery.
Andrew Patterson, Barbara McKerrow, Harry Duynhoven and Lance Girling-Butcher stand around a model of the new Len Lye Gallery.

New Plymouth's controversial Len Lye Centre has been given the go-ahead after securing the full $10 million needed to fund the project.

While a further $200,000 has been contributed by private donors, the TSB Community Trust has underwritten the project by $1.3m to allow it to proceed.

The trust has given the New Plymouth District Council 2 years to raise the remaining funds.

Council chief executive Barbara McKerrow said the council would continue fundraising to remove the need for the underwriting.

"We are in discussions with other major corporates and hope to make more announcements of support soon," she said.

The council had already secured $4m from the Government, $3m from Todd Energy, $1m from TSB Community Trust and $500,000 from the Lottery Grants Board.

The centre will permanently display a large collection of work by kinetic artist Len Lye. The material, including large mechanical sculptures and archival material, is currently stored at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery which does not have the space to display much of the collection.

While the project has come to fruition through donors, ratepayers are expected to foot the annual running costs bill.

In 2006, the annual running costs were estimated at $680,000, however, that has decreased to $362,000 per year with the decision to amalgamate the Len Lye Centre and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.

Although they will run as separate facilities, they will share a management team and operating costs, as well as an education suite, cinema and the retail store.

New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven said the cost to ratepayers was manageable, with the centre's annual running cost being very small in relation to other council-related projects.

"If you put it in perspective, everything that we've ever done in the community, that has been community-funded, right back to the Poet's Bridge at Pukekura Park . . . its maintenance and running costs in its 100 and something years has been paid for by ratepayers.

"The entire funding has come from outside the ratepayer pool and that is a substantial gift to the city and to the district," he said.

Mr Duynhoven said he had no doubt the end product would attract national and international tourists, as well as contribute to Taranaki's economic growth.

In addition to the Len Lye Centre, the council plans to simultaneously carry out earthquake strengthening work, deferred renewals work, and health and safety improvements at the Govett-Brewster.

Completing this work under the same contract would be the most cost-effective option for the council, said infrastructure general manager Anthony Wilson.

"Regardless of whether the Len Lye Centre was being built, we would still have had to undertake earthquake strengthening for the Govett-Brewster.

"Were it not for the centre, it's likely the earthquake strengthening at the gallery would have been considerably more difficult and expensive.”

Although the exact amount was not known, Mr Wilson said the extra work would exceed the $10m

budget and would be funded from depreciation reserves at the Govett-Brewster.

Chairman of the Len Lye committee Lance Girling-Butcher said the construction of the centre would generate ample work for builders and tradesmen, meaning a contribution to Taranaki's economy would be made before it opened.

While the project has been the subject of heated debate over the past few years, Mr Girling-Butcher said people would be looking a gift horse in the mouth if they continued to resent it.

"The wind wand is a perfect example - the furore that went on at putting the wind wand up was unbelievable, and today you'd be very lucky to find anybody who has a bad word to say about it," he said.

"It's been a very long, harrowing path, but you don't know how wonderful it is to be at this point," he said.

The council will take expressions of interest for the tender up until October 12 and advise those invited to tender by October 19.

A tender will be awarded by December 10 and construction is set to start in February 2013 with a completion date estimated for February 2015.

Lye, who died in 1980, embarked on a career in art in the 1930s and became fascinated with the concept of moving sculptures, examples of which are the 45-metre Wind Wand in New Plymouth and Wellington's Water Whirler on the waterfront.

Taranaki Daily News