Wellington Scoop

The future of a Civic Square landmark


There were reports that it would have to be demolished. But now we’re told that earthquake damage to the city council’s administration building can be repaired at a cost to its insurers of – hold your breath – between $30million and $40million.

The curved building on Civic Square has been empty since the November earthquake. The council at first denied that there was structural damage, but the fact that it stayed empty was a pretty good indication that something was wrong.

Then in June chief executive Kevin Lavery told staff (450 of them had been displaced from the building) that an earthquake damage claim had been lodged.

And on Friday the council’s chief financial officer Andy Matthews revealed the likely cost and added: “The work that we’ve done to date and the initial estimates that we’ve had of the damage and the repair assessment indicate that the building is repairable.”


In the last week or two, builders have been putting up temporary walls to close off the Wakefield Street colonnade which has been blocked since the building was closed, with a temporary footpath positioned over the former roadside garden. It seems someone has decided that while it’s unsafe to walk under the building, there’s no danger in walking alongside it.

The building is comparatively new – it was completed in the early 1990s at the same time as the creation of Civic Square. (And at the same time as the Town Hall was last strengthened.) The adjacent Municipal Office Building is 40 years older – it was opened in 1951 – but they must have built things stronger in those days. Though it’s also yellow-stickered, it’s still occupied. However it’s been identified as part of the new Music Hub, so council staff are likely to be moving out next year, when work starts on strengthening the Town Hall.

Which means that all the council’s employees can look forward to years of working from temporary offices till the administration building becomes fit for occupation again. And then, will their desks be moved closer together, or will staff numbers have been cut, or will working from home have become the norm?

There are other similar challenges for the council. The Capital E building is also yellow-stickered and empty. But there’s no ban on walking over the top of it, for the thousands of people who use Civic Square every day. Few of them would know that the structure beneath them is deemed to be unsafe.

And no doubt the council’s insurers are facing the challenge of assessing the cost estimate for repairing the administration building. Only a block away is the Majestic Tower, built at the same as the council’s building. The 28-storey tower was assessed in 2011 as a “moderate earthquake risk” with a strengthening cost of $35million. Two years later the owners announced that the cost had risen to $54m. Work has only recently been completed, with one difference from the council’s plans – most of the occupants stayed in their offices as the huge project was carried out around them.


  1. Simon, 2. October 2017, 9:28

    So, the council is spending $90m on upgrading the Town Hall and $40m on strengthening the Civic Admin Building. Surely $130m could be used for a ‘fit for purpose’ Civic Centre for Wellington? Or was that not considered? [The council says the $40m will be covered from insurance payouts. There’s already a budget for Civic Square improvements, which are connected with the Music Hub plans. ]

  2. Deputy, 2. October 2017, 10:34

    30-40million? Is this an inflated insurance claim or what? Or an inflated argument for demolition and developer new build? The damage is not that great.

    The Council’s record for looking after its assets-buildings is getting worse – CAB, Town Hall, MOB-EQ prone?? etc. Are the mayor and Council letting egos get in the way of fixing a building and properly caring for staff? Just fix it, maintain it, use it. Get on with it.

    Some true explanation would be welcome! First – the comparative quotes to fix the CAB terracotta building.

  3. Lou Anderson, 3. October 2017, 7:43

    1. MOB is not earthquake prone, there is no yellow notice.

    2. Does anyone on here understand the complexity of a major insurance claim.

    3. “The damage is not that great” – how do you know that? Have you seen the engineering reports?

    4. The hoardings going up have nothing to do with structural integrity.

  4. Michael, 3. October 2017, 9:37

    How come it has taken this long to decide the building is to be fixed? The council were quick to demand private owners either pull their buildings down or strengthen them, yet they spend years deciding what to do with council property – the Town Hall being a great example.

    For the past year the council has managed to operate in the Municipal Office Building and the top of the library, albeit in cramped conditions. In the meanwhile it has pursued Victoria University to get the music school into the Municipal building,and the staff will have to move out at more cost to the ratepayers. Of course they could just reduce the size of the council, which would be cost effective for the ratepayers. Or maybe there is a friendly developer lining up to build a new building elsewhere?

  5. Deputy, 3. October 2017, 12:46

    Lou: The Council should be upfront with residents and ratepayers…inflated insurance claim? Not being accepted? Staff are to be shifted out of the Municipal Office Building next year, and the council is to pay rent to PWC, a global accounting firm. Hoardings going up around the CAB are going to have murals painted on them. Meanwhile Council staff are highly disrupted, and the public will have no civic “home” as the building lies empty and neglected.

    The Council should get quotes to fix the CAB, make them public, and get on with it. Or is the Civic Centre going to have three empty buildings for at least three years? More relevantly: where is the political accountability for this mess?

  6. Marion Leader, 3. October 2017, 16:51

    I think the “mess” goes back a couple of years to when there were talks about replacing the Town Hall with a hotel. The whole saga has been marked by a lack of political leadership.

  7. Simon, 9. October 2017, 20:58

    In true WCC style, the truth gradually trickles out. The CEO has said they will be moving into the soon-to-be- former PWC building for five years. The reason: the repairs will be lengthy and even then the building will not be base insulated and therefore not suitable (somewhat understandably) for council use. Therefore, by implication, a new building will be required. Of course, the Town Hall will Be base insulated for the Music School.
    So the current plan of spending $220m on the Civic complex which is not suitable for council use needs to be revised.
    But what are the council focused on? Taking a leadership position on cigarette butts. Taking a leaf out of the Trump book – distracting supporters from the lack of action on important issues.

  8. Mole, 10. October 2017, 11:43

    The Civic Centre is a listed heritage site (unless of course the Council has behind closed doors removed it from its list), meaning it has protection. Is the Council breaching its own District Plan? This civic centre is a prized public, heritage and civic asset. It is the heart of the city and Wellington’s civic life..

    Millions have been wasted on delaying the upgrade of the Town hall, and seeing other Civic Centre buiildings as an income opportunity. The mayor and councillors are not being upfront about all of this. The public needs to know what the Council intends. Secrecy is never a healthy way to govern.