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Getting serious about fixing the Library

library-ex-gordon [1]

by Lindsay Shelton
The most powerful statement at last night’s public meeting [2] 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.” [3] 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 [4] 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 [5], 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 [6]