Wellington Scoop

They’ve agreed at last: a deal is signed for the music centre

The view from Wakefield Street – the Municipal Office Building (left) and the Town Hall, both opened up with a new look for the national music centre.

by Lindsay Shelton
The future of Civic Square took a turn for the better yesterday, with the signing of a long-negotiated partnership deal for the Municipal Office Building to become part of the planned national music centre.

Plans for the building (which was completed in 1951) hit what the council called a “hiccup” at the beginning of last year when Victoria University, one of the partners in the music centre, decided not to buy it for use as teaching and administrative space. Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford explained why the university wasn’t going ahead with what was supposed to be the second half (the strengthened Town Hall is the first half) of the music centre:

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.

One of the reasons for the university’s caution could have been the fact that the MOB is yellow stickered. According to a council news release at the end of 2014 it was rated at only 41% of the new building standard in terms of earthquake resistance, with an estimated $12 million cost to achieve 67%. A cost (sure to rise) that must now be met by the city council as the building’s continuing owner.


In that same release, the council also planned to strengthen the adjacent Civic Administration Building. Completed in 1991, in 2014 it had a 40 per cent quake rating, with a $6m estimate to strengthen it to 80 per cent – which never happened, because the building was closed in 2016 after the Kaikoura earthquakes. Three years later, there’s no decision on whether it’ll be strengthened or demolished.

No such uncertainty about the Municipal Office Building, however. Yesterday’s agreement confirms that it is to be leased from the council by Victoria University for 25 years. So the city will have to find the money to strengthen it. Announcing yesterday’s deal, the council was less than specific about this:

The Council will refurbish the MOB and lease it to the national music centre for 25 years. With this agreement Council can now progress detailed design and finalise costings.

The finalised costings to be added to the as yet unknown cost of saving the Central Library and eventually making it accessible again.

The progress with plans for the music centre does however give a long-term hope that Civic Square will eventually recover its ability to attract the crowds.

Professor Grant Guilford, Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington, said yesterday:

“We believe the national music centre will provide a real uplift for music and music education in this country – the state-of-the-art teaching, rehearsal, research and performance spaces that it will offer will enable an outstanding education for the next generation of musicians.”

Christopher Blake, chief executive of the NZSO (which is the other partner in the national music centre) says:

“The NZSO and the NZ School of Music already have close links. Having both organisations under the same roof offers enormous benefits for the Orchestra, students and staff, and new opportunities for us to work together.”

And the ever-optimistic Justin Lester:

“The national music centre will be home to some of New Zealand’s best musicians and will inject their energy and talent into the central city. With the NZSO and NZSM in the area, the civic square precinct is intended to expand enormously with options for public access to music and the arts, lunchtime concerts, public lectures, workshops, seminars and art displays.”

The music centre will also be the new home for Orchestra Wellington.

But with work on the Town Hall not likely to be completed for another four years, Wellington will have a very long wait before the sounds of music become a daily feature in Civic Square. And if the city council can longer use its Municipal Office Building, and with the fate of the Civic Administration Block so uncertain, councillors face another set of major and costly decisions – will the council ever return to Civic Square? And if not, what decision will they take about the civic centre of the capital city?


  1. Tom, 18. June 2019, 16:27

    It certainly is great news that the national music centre (and I notice that this moniker goes uncapitalised in all the official documents which would suggest it’s only a working title) is going ahead, however, it’s slightly unfortunate that the Council are the ones lumped with the majority of the cost – yet again. Apart from the rent of the building for 25 years, it will probably cost the University next to nothing, considering the fit-out costs will be largely (if not entirely) covered by fundraising. In addition, the NZSO also received a reasonable allocation of $6m in this year’s budget to go towards its fit-out costs.

    As for how much the MOB portion of the music centre will cost (and in particular how much it will cost ratepayers), originally the figure for the entire centre was touted as $187m. This was when VUW were purchasing (or being given) the building and when the Town Hall was costing $90m to strengthen. This would mean that the cost of the MOB portion of the centre was then considered to be close to $100m. However, now that VUW are no longer doing the work themselves, I think the MOB proposals will be downgraded. Judging by the initial renders, the building was going to be quite extensively altered – I would say that this was where much of the money was going. I now notice that the render used in the official release has changed and the cut-out on the MOB’s ground floor, that was going to be its entrance, has gone and the new render shows an unaltered building. And unlike the Town Hall, I think the strengthening needed to the MOB will be a much simpler affair; it’s not being retrospectively base-isolated and it’s a relatively modern building (and actually 41% is not a terrible rating – for comparison, the Library is 15%).

  2. Ms Green, 18. June 2019, 18:50

    The library was 43% NBS before the Portico (that glassed-in aerial bridge between the library and the CAB) was removed in order to bring its rating and safety up. Now some people are saying it is only 15% NBS. Where did that figure come from?
    Even the Council’s announcement on its sudden closure said the library was not earthquake prone (i.e. not under 33% NBS). It was closed because some new guidelines from MBIE made it suddenly “unsafe.”
    The library will always bring more people into the civic centre, than the national music centre (University lecture theatres) ever will. But the building will be saved.

  3. Tom, 18. June 2019, 20:31

    Ms Green, the NBS rating of the library is up for interpretation really. The engineer’s report gave the building two ratings: one was a reflection of the current NBS system (which from memory was in the 60% range) and the other was in light of the information unearthed by an MBIE report commissioned after the Kaikoura earthquake (which looked into the failure of similar buildings). This other rating, of between 15 and 25 per cent, is not an official rating but is the effective rating based on various factors to do with its construction. The engineer’s report found that there was significant risk of the library “pancaking” in the event of an earthquake because of the hollowcore flooring which was supported by inadequate brackets and which was compounded by the building having large and irregular floorplates (irregular because of atria and elevators which are not usually present in an ordinary building). And because it’s a council building, the cautious option of closing it has been chosen even though its official rating by no means compels this closure.

    I’d say many buildings in the CBD built with the same construction method are in the same boat, except, since these are privately owned, the owner is probably clinging on to the “official” rating, though in reality the building is prone to unacceptable failure. Bowen House, at this stage, is the only other building that has been reported as needing investigation because of its hollowcore flooring, but it was a common construction method between the 1980s and late 2000s and so there are many more buildings with potential problems (their inhabitants just don’t happen to be MPs). When the NBS rating system is updated to reflect the MBIE report’s findings, there will be a lot of unhappy building owners and, unless a solution to fixing the flooring is found, a lot of demolition as well.

  4. michael, 18. June 2019, 22:53

    Does anyone (including councillors) know the cost of this to the ratepayers and how much return the council is expecting over 25 years?

  5. Ms Green, 19. June 2019, 8:11

    Tom thanks for your explanation. I was aware of this but it is helpful to repeat it. Many multi-storey buildings are so affected. But there is only one fact in all of this. The library is not 15%NBS, as the latest guidelines are not law. If a new problem has been identified and it is serious enough, then fix it and get on with life and enjoying our library.

  6. michael, 19. June 2019, 9:09

    Ms Green: At the rate the council is going, it will not be a “civic” square any more. Sounds like they are not going back there and, if the town hall is anything to go by, there won’t be a decision about the library for years.