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The future of a Civic Square landmark

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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 [2]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.”

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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 [4], 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. [5] 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.