Wellington Scoop

Demolition of Karori campus buildings starting next month

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Demolition of heritage-listed buildings on the former campus of the Victoria University Teachers College in Karori is to start next month. The site will be closed on Monday.

Ryman Healthcare, who bought the site from Victoria University at the end of last year, are planning a retirement complex on the much-debated site; they gave the demolition news to the Save the Karori Campus group this week.

Five buildings are to be demolished: the Ako Pai Marae, the theatre, dance and drama building, the Mackie gymnasium, the five-storey Panckhurst Building and the eight-storey Malcolm Building.

Four buildings around the central courtyard are to be “reused”: the Tennant Building (which is the main entrance), the Waghorn Building, the Gray Library Building and the Allen Ward VC Hall. The octagonal Oldershaw Block is also listed for reuse.

Save the Campus, which had tried to save the entire site for community use, says there have been extensive discussions between Ryman, the WCC and Heritage NZ, but there is no new information on their approach to the retirement complex development.

Here is this week’s letter from Ryman:

We are working through the design phase and will be commencing site preparation works early. We will be retaining buildings known as the quad buildings and these do not form part of the demolition approval or site preparation works.

To redevelop the site, we first need to carry out demolition of some buildings which will occur in two stages. Stage one will involve site establishment and an internal strip out of all buildings on site. Asbestos testing has been completed throughout all buildings and the results showed the presence of asbestos. This will be removed by a licenced contractor in accordance with a construction management plan and the New Zealand Health and Safety at Work Regulations 2016. Stage two will involve demolition of the buildings that are approved to be demolished. These are deemed structurally unsafe and/or not suitable to be repurposed given their specialist institutional design.

Before works can commence, we will be installing a secure fence around the perimeter of the site and terminating all services within this perimeter. There will be no public access through the site from 8 October, however the playing fields along Campbell Street and the cricket nets are still freely available for public use during this time. The public walkway between our northern boundary and Karori Swimming Pool will also remain open…

During this time, there will be some construction traffic in the area. Vehicle and pedestrian safety is paramount for us, particularly the safety of the children at the neighbouring school. We will have a traffic controller / truck spotter at the site entry and pedestrian fencing will be located on the footpath surrounding the site. Trucks will be managed so they do not meet or pass each other while travelling along Donald Street and while entering or exiting our site. All trucks will be following the guidelines set out in our construction traffic management plan. To further ensure safety of pedestrians and school traffic, truck movements will be limited during school peaks of 8.15-9.00am and 2.45-3.30pm.


We plan to have the first stage of the demolition process underway in approximately 4 weeks’ time with an expected timeframe of 15 weeks. For further updates please follow our face book page.

Heritage NZ, July 2018 – Former teachers’ college given Category 1 listing

In August, Save the Campus told its members they were encouraged to read comments by the Metlifecare CEO arguing the case for more open and connected retirement villages, scrapping the boundary fence and using good design and modern technology to control security, and embracing connectivity with the surrounding community through shared spaces and a public café. The campaigners reported:

We have been trying for months to get Ryman to adopt this sort of modern thinking for their Karori development, but they seem locked into a 1970’s planning model epitomised by the institution-like developments at Bob Scott in Lower Hutt and Charles Fleming at Waikanae. These villages are on the fringe of communities and they seem to have avoided public interest in their designs. In Karori, on the other hand, the new village is right in the centre of our busy suburb. We have written to the Ryman CEO seeking a meeting to discuss the situation but he has declined to meet us. We continue to press the WCC to … influence Ryman in this early design phase.

The residents of Scapa Street along the south side of the site have met with Ryman to discuss the project and its potential impact on them… Heritage NZ have formally listed the campus buildings. This doesn’t protect them per se but the fact that they have been through their processes is a measure of the buildings’ heritage and architectural value. In the past the WCC has routinely added listed buildings to the District Plan. If this was done now, it would only be relevant to the buildings for whom demolition has not been consented. This includes the Gray, Tennant, and Waghorn blocks and the Hall.

In July, Save the Campus wrote to Rymans saying:

…we seek the abandonment of the idea that a boundary fence is necessary to provide site security, and we suggest instead a mixture of modern security technology, shrubs, and non-intrusive fencing. We would like you to consider repurposing the Quad and surrounding buildings with public access to a new medical centre for the Karori Medical Centre, a café that encourages the creation of a ‘village’ atmosphere where the community seamlessly mixes with village occupants, new community spaces including co-working areas with a focus on senior citizens, and hobby facilities using the existing spaces and facilities in the ground floor of the Waghorn block. Further, we would also like you to reconsider the idea of continuing the integration of some activities of the Karori Normal School into the site and especially through their ongoing use of the Allen Ward Hall. We suggest the idea that this extraordinary and large Hall, with its sprung floor and superb acoustics, be repurposed into office accommodation, as has been intimated to us, reflects a mind-set more akin to a property developer than a sophisticated retirement village owner.

Ben Schrader: Demolishing our modernist heritage


  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 7. October 2018, 11:22

    They will need to back the bus service to the hospital.

  2. Chris Horne, 7. October 2018, 11:50

    Ryman Healthcare’s failure to implement the requests of Karori’s Save the Campus community group suggests that Ryman puts profits before anything else. Ryman Healthcare appears to care not one iota for the long-term health and well-being of the Karori community it wants to impose itself on. Ryman’s social conscience appears to be almost non-existent – its mantra must be “Profits before the people of Karori and the heritage buildings in their midst”. Finally, it appears that my alma mater, Victoria University of Wellington, which bought the site for peanuts and sold it to Ryman for megabucks, is in a similar league to Ryman Healthcare in its consideration of the long-term interests of Karori community. Shame!

  3. Citizen Joe, 7. October 2018, 12:48

    No different to the Gordon Wilson Flats and Erskine College! The Wellington City Council seems to see its role as helping corporates like Wellington University and the Wellington Company make loads of money from doing nothing with heritage buildings and then sanctioning their demolition. All supine councillors should be evicted at the next election.

  4. Observer, 7. October 2018, 16:29

    The whole complex is Category 1, but under present law this gives no legal protection, as we’ve seen at Erskine. The only way to protect it would be to put a heritage order on it, but neither the WCC nor Heritage NZ is prepared to do that.

  5. Manny, 7. October 2018, 16:34

    Ryman is a private Australian for-profit company that like Westpac is a fav of the govt and so gets special deals. The govt knew we needed good NZ healthcare and rest-homes for the elderly and what did they do? Nothing.

  6. Ben Schrader, 8. October 2018, 12:36

    The thing I don’t get in all of this is why Victoria University felt the need to leave the Karori campus in the first place. It was purpose built for tertiary education and had amazing facilities for staff and students. It is also relatively close to town.

    Land for expansion is tight at the Kelburn campus, hence Vic’s decision to buy and demolish the Gordon Wilson Flats to expand. If they had kept the Karori campus they could have grown that site and left the Gordon Wilson Flats for a developer to buy and turn into apartments.

    As a consequence of Vic’s actions two important pieces of Wellington’s built heritage will vanish forever. It seems it hasn’t learnt anything since the days it wanted to demolish its (now) emblematic Hunter Building.

    Still, it seems Vic hasn’t left Karori totally behind. I understand it has uplifted Guy Ngan’s and Doreen Blumhardt’s famous sculptures from the site with the intention of erecting them elsewhere. Karori loses again.

  7. michael Lee, 8. October 2018, 13:46

    This is a concerted call on the developers of the Karori retirement home to keep their hands off all the trees and greenery on the site! Especially the stand of native bush beside the Karori Pool. I will be watching very closely to see that no trees are felled: Who else will support this stand? Demolition often means axing trees. By the way, how many storeys will the new development be, and what will the exterior cladding be? What are your answers Ryman?

  8. Wellington (Inc), 14. October 2018, 13:01

    It is sad the opportunity has been lost for a secondary school on this site. Wellington’s population growth is exceding expectations and has increased by a third since 1996. There hasn’t been a new school in the Wellington city council area for at least 50 years. (In fact there has been a decline with the loss of Erskine). Schools such as Wellington College are bursting at the seams. A large part of its intake is Karori and the Western suburbs which are not well served by public secondary schools. Karori High School would have divided Karori residents, many who send their sons to Wellington College, but the reduced congestion from Karori to the Basin Reserve alone would have made this idea worth pursuing.