by Lindsay Shelton
Strange that a council employee is pretending it’s only a “hiccup” that Victoria University has pulled out of the plan to use the Municipal Office Building for teaching and administrative rooms for the proposed Music Hub.
The university has decided not to buy the building, which is next to the Town Hall. This is a serious setback for the Music Hub plan.
The DomPost reports  that university vice-chancellor Grant Guildford has this explanation of why the university won’t buy the huilding, as had been intended:
“The impacts of [the 2016 Kaikoura] earthquake on buildings on reclaimed land such as Civic Square poses new design and cost issues which we need to better understand, as well as other related considerations such as what happens to the neighbouring Civic Administration Building.”
Without teaching rooms, the Music Hub faces a diminished future. It was announced by the city council in 2014,  as a partnership with the NZSO and the university. The NZSO was an enthusiastic partner from the start. But the university was not willing to make a definite commitment.
When Athfield Architects were hired in 2015 to produce concept plans, the university was still uncertain . Its Pro Vice-Chancellor of Humanities and Social Sciences Professor Jennifer Windsor said:
“Victoria University is delighted to be working with Athfield Architects to explore the potential of this site. The concept designs will be pivotal as we explore the feasibility of partnering with Wellington to create a renewed vision of education, music and creative arts excellence for the benefit of the entire community.”
It wasn’t till last May that Victoria confirmed participation – but only for the first stage of the plan  – strengthening and reopening the Town Hall:
The redevelopment and fit out of the Town Hall’s main auditorium, the Debating Chamber and Ilott Room to provide central city rehearsal and performance spaces for Victoria’s New Zealand School of Music and the NZSO.
It held back from committing to the second stage (buying the council building), which was intended to a key part of
a nationally significant centre of musical excellence taking in adjoining buildings to provide teaching and administrative space in the Municipal Office Building, creating a central city home for the NZSM and NZSO.
The university launched a fund-raising campaign led by Kerry Prendergast for stage two, but no one is saying how much money has been raised. With or without the $30million that was the target, the university has decided that the second stage is too costly, and the condition of the council building is too uncertain.
Without teaching and administrative space, the university’s music students will have to divide their time between the existing buildings in Kelburn, and the rehearsal and performance spaces in the Town Hall. As a result, the Music Hub will be much diminished.
The Council’s Ian Pike (who must be regretting that he used the word “hiccup”) is however remaining hopeful, saying:
All options for the Municipal Office Building remain on the table and could involve working with the university but selling it to an independent, third party …
Council staff are still working in the office building, but they’re expected to move out when work on the Town Hall (which is still on schedule for reopening in 2021) starts this year. It’ll then become another empty building on Civic Square.
And as the university’s vice-chancellor mentioned, another problem is the adjacent Civic Administration Building, closed since the Kaikoura earthquake and likely to be demolished. Not an encouraging environment for a music school.
When city councillors return from their summer holidays, they face major issues for the new year. Not only the collapse of half of the Music School proposal. But also the likelihood that the $150million Movie Museum will not be going ahead, because of the failure to reach agreement with Peter Jackson.
It seems that the empty space opposite Te Papa will stay empty. And not one but two council buildings alongside Civic Square will be empty as well.