Wellington Scoop

Getting serious about fixing the Library


by Lindsay Shelton
The most powerful statement at last night’s public meeting about the Central Library came from a structural engineer with 40 years experience. He said that work to reopen the building could start in two months – “if you had the will to do it.”

The question after the meeting: how serious is the city council when it says reopening the library is a priority?

Cr Iona Pannett said: “We’re getting the message. People want it reopened as soon as possible.” But she also said that no decision could be made till after the October elections.

Council chief executive Kevin Lavery has an even longer timeframe. He says the future of the library is a high priority for the council but insists no decisions are possible for “more than a year.” He needs to reconsider his belief that there are “no quick or easy fixes,” after the statement last night that work could be started within two months.

Structural engineer Adam Thornton described how the library building had been assessed at 60 per cent of the new building standard, but then new guidelines eight months ago had pointed to a risk with the hollow-core floors – but only in the event of a big earthquake. “This,” he said, “is an easy mode to repair..all do-able.” Bracing would be added to fix the floors more securely to the columns and beams. Such strengthening would be a “relatively straightforward” project. And the existence of a basement car park would provide space for installation of base isolators. There would also have to be work to strengthen the stairs, and to further secure panels on the Victoria Street facade.

He estimated that demolishing and rebuilding would cost $140m, with the added problem that 18,000 tonnes of concrete would have to be moved, adding to the city’s carbon footprint at a time when it was aiming to become a carbon zero city. But strengthening could be done for $68million. And the work could be carried out in stages, with re-entry being possible after the first stage.

Cr Pannett said one of the issues was “how are we going to pay for it?”

In terms of priorities, this question should have an easy answer. I asked her why the council wasn’t postponing construction of the convention centre, so that the budgetted $154m could be transferred to fixing the library. Surely a good idea when, as architect Gordon Moller pointed out, a million people use the library every year. But she said this could not be done, though she didn’t give any reasons.

Hard to believe that the convention centre should keep this top priority, when it’s likely to lose money, and there’s no way that it will ever be used by a million people a year. In fact, it won’t attract much community use at all, and it’ll be closed for much of the time except when it has succeeded in attracting a big event. Whereas the library is open to everyone every day of the year. But not till the council reconsiders its priorities and works out how it can be reopened.

The council should be aware that, as Adam Thornton told last night’s meeting, there are “lots of other Wellington buildings like this,” with extra support being added to ensure the seismic security of hollow-core floors. But there’s a difference. These buildings have not been closed, but continue to be occupied while strengthening work is carried out, floor by floor.

In the words of Gordon Moller: “The library isn’t damaged. It can be remediated.”

But when?

Read also:
Gordon Campbell: What’s wrong with Wellington


  1. Michael Pringle, 16. July 2019, 14:06

    Excellent commentary Lindsay. I will share this widely. It echoes my own response to last night. The convention centre should never have got the go ahead. The Library must reopen very soon, the current situation is untenable.

  2. Tom, 16. July 2019, 14:57

    If Adam Thornton is quoting $68m now and he hasn’t even set foot in the building, I hate to think what it’ll be in a year’s time when all the necessary preliminary work has been carried out. Lester quoted $100m, but I’m afraid even that will pale in significance with the real cost. Didn’t the Town Hall start out at $40m odd? And what is it now – well over $100m?

    Thornton is of course right when he says there are plenty of buildings in this city facing similar problems. He however neglects to mention that, as the engineers report alludes to, the central library has unique structural problems distinct from the common 10 storey office tower. For one thing it has huge floor plates which bear heavy loads and for another these floors are sliced and diced with atria which adds to the complexity.

  3. PCGM, 16. July 2019, 16:09

    Commercial construction inflation is currently running at 7-9% per annum in New Zealand, so Kevin Lavery’s apparent enthusiasm for an additional 12 months worth of meetings and reports and discussions will raise the $68 million estimate to a $73 million estimate at the stroke of a pen. This would appear to be exceedingly poor value for money for the ratepayers forced to stump up with the additional cash.

  4. michael, 16. July 2019, 16:13

    Thornton went at great lengths to show the structural plan and explain how the building was built, he also produced diagrams to explain the problems and how they can be fixed. Given his credibility as a leading structural engineer in Wellington it is time WCC took note and investigated this further. If the library can be fixed in stages and the interior redesigned at a later date, then this is what should happen.

    However, one got the impression from last night (and the mayor’s recent comments in the paper) that the WCC may have an ulterior agenda for the library which will mean long delays and endless consultation.

  5. Rumpole, 16. July 2019, 16:33

    A reminder of the council’s grandiose ideas for a convention centre on Cable Street which will seldom be used. This has been granted to developers Willis Bond Ltd without public tender. The Auditor General should investigate this cosy relationship without delay.

  6. Groggy, 16. July 2019, 17:06

    “work to reopen the building could start in two months – “if you had the will to do it.”

    A lovely soundbite, easy to make when you don’t need to follow through. But that assumes you have fully planned the remediation, know what materials you need (SKU’s, quantities, order leadtimes), have suppliers in place, and have a contractor lined up ready to start the work.

    The reality is that none of this has been done, the only way it could happen is if the council awarded the contract straight to a preferred partner (eg Willis Bond/LT McGuiness), with a massive contingency built in to cover all the unknowns. But there has been a chorus of disapproval towards that operating model on this very site, you can’t have it both ways. And there would be even more of an outcry when the cost balloons because the initial estimate was done on the back of a fag packet.

  7. Donald T., 16. July 2019, 17:49

    PCGM – Kev’s remuneration package is probably running at 10% too – there is no incentive for him to do anything quickly – he gets paid ridiculously well already!

  8. Greenwelly, 16. July 2019, 20:43

    @Danald T , one of the first acts of the incoming council will be the future of Mr Lavery, his contract expires in April 2020, and has already been extended once. (Not sure if they can do it again.)

  9. Jane C, 17. July 2019, 7:48

    Lets hope not greenwelly, but as we can see the Council and Mayor are also part of the problem. When did rates become a slush fund for wealthy developers and businessmen by way of the string pulling of the CE, Mayor and Council?

  10. Tony Jansen, 17. July 2019, 12:54

    Yes there has been pork barrel politicking for some time now. It is not just this administration but dates back a good many years. If you want this to change then you have to not only remove the Mayor and the CEO, but also a fair percentage of the councillors. Not only that, you have to replace them with better people. Looking at the possible spectrum of candidates (the two new right wing parties), I would suggest that we would be electing worse local body politicians than what we are currently encumbered with. We need somehow to ensure transparency within the council as well as greater accountability. How we do that of course is another matter.

  11. Concerned Wellingtonian, 17. July 2019, 15:35

    The difficulty about getting transparency arises because of an old Audit Office report which seems to legitimise Council workshops.
    Has anyone found out when these take place and what happens at them?

  12. Henry Filth, 17. July 2019, 20:52

    Doesn’t Mark Blumsky look good in the rear view mirror!

  13. Michael Barnett, 17. July 2019, 21:29

    From a risk assessment point of view the entire earthquake strengthening saga is a gross over reaction to events in Christchurch and elsewhere, which could cost society billions maybe trillion of dollars. During the 180 plus years of European settlement of New Zealand fewer than 1000 deaths have been recorded as a direct result of seismic activity. Compare that with the 300 plus deaths and countless number of injuries that occur on our roads each year, something is grossly out of kilter.

    In the case of the central library, Adam Thornton is on the right track. Time for common sense to prevail, if that is at all possible in a politically charged environment.

  14. CPH, 18. July 2019, 8:50

    Henry Filth – Kerry Prendergast looks even better.

  15. D.W., 18. July 2019, 9:26

    Nah CPH – Mark left a mark on Wellington whereas I can’t recall anything about KP’s reign.

  16. Observer, 18. July 2019, 9:35

    Clearly the Council are lacking in political willpower, so close to an election.

  17. Lindsay, 18. July 2019, 9:38

    I’d expect that everyone would vote for a candidate who committed to starting work on the Library two months after the election.

  18. Polly, 18. July 2019, 11:44

    Agree with you Lindsay, the Library should be at the top of the list…so many Wellingtonians have been very strong on this.

  19. michael, 23. July 2019, 21:51

    I wouldn’t hold my breath. Looks like WCC are paving the way for a ‘fire sale’ at civic square. The DomPost reports:
    Lavery highlighted Civic Square as one of three projects where financing could be changed to help the budget…Lavery said the bills due for Civic Square could be offset by the sale or lease of land there to generate activity on the square and cash. . .One target for development could be the Michael Fowler carpark, already part of a “live” proposal with a developer. . . Even the library could be further developed: “Most people think of the library building as just a library building but it’s not, it had something like nearly 300 staff above the library in an office block. That office block could be a lot bigger.”