Wellington Scoop

Fixing the Library – we need it back

by Conor Hill
I want to see our Central Library fixed as soon as possible, and I want that work to take precedence over an airport runway extension, an arena, and if possible, the convention centre.

Our Central Library was Wellington’s democratic heart.

When it was open, 3,000 of us would be there daily, a million visits a year. It was about the only place in Wellington where you’d see the full diversity of this city. Public servants, young families, homelesss people, suits, pensioners. Trying to find our next book, killing time when a bus got cancelled, or getting a bite at Clarks.

It’s a testament to the city that the library’s closure has been an electoral issue. And of course it has been. I’m glad to live in a city with literary tradition that is strong and getting stronger. Writers from Victoria’s Institute of Modern Letters are having huge success. Novelist Eleanor Catton winning the Booker prize, poet Hera Lindsay Bird getting worldwide acclaim, and essayist Ashleigh Young receiving one of the world’s richest literary prizes.

We’re a literary city missing our democratic heart.

There are plenty of bad ideas out there for what to do with the Central Library. Bowl it for an office block with a Starbucks on the ground floor. The satirical idea of entombing our books in the Convention Centre. There are also a tonne of other projects some of our councillors and candidates are keener on, from a Convention Centre to an airport runway extension.

But I don’t get any of it. Whether or not you love the building, our Central Library worked. We need to get it back.

Our Central Library is important to Wellingtonians. I understand that, and I understand the reasons why. As mayor I will ensure the proud literary tradition of this city takes precedence over polluting vanity projects like an airport runway extension.

Public Service Announcement:

From now until midday on Saturday, please vote at a library (including the Manners Street pop up) or a community centre. The only other option is the Railway Station during commuting hours until Friday.

Conor Hill is a candidate for the Wellington mayoralty.


  1. Dave B, 9. October 2019, 17:44

    Thanks Conor. I believe you are echoing the voice of the majority. Most people, I suspect, would not prioritise a runway-extension or a convention centre ahead of facilities which have much more bearing on the everyday-lives of many, such as the library, Civic Square and of course the public transport-system. Fix or properly-fund first, those things without which our city is immediately the poorer.
    Vanity-project proponents – are you listening?

  2. Humphrey Hanley, 9. October 2019, 22:09

    What would you say a reasonable cost for strengthening it is though? Is there a spending limit? Or do we open it at any cost? What if we could build a new one, cheaper than fixing the old one? I don’t know the numbers either, I’m just curious where you stand on the budget of it. We do need a central library, and an accessible one of course, but at what cost does it need to be this building?

  3. Fooster McNab, 10. October 2019, 6:43

    The WCC have already wasted the same amount as the lowest repair estimate provided by one engineer. The Council do not want to reopen or repair our undamaged Library – they are in cahoots with developers.

  4. Ruz, 10. October 2019, 12:37

    Interesting that the old library building (which is now the home of the city art gallery) in Civic Square appears to be less of an earthquake risk than the newer WCC admin building and library.
    While a runway extension may have economic benefits, I doubt that a convention centre will pay off, given Wellington will be competing with convention centres already in existence or being built elsewhere. Wellington is unlikely to have a competitive advantage in this space.

  5. michael, 10. October 2019, 12:49

    There seems to be little doubt the WCC seem to have other plans for the library. Top Wellington structural engineer Adam Thornton told a meeting months ago that there are “lots of other Wellington buildings like this, with extra support being added to ensure the seismic security of hollow-core floors. These buildings have not been closed, they continue to be occupied while strengthening work is carried out, floor by floor” and it “is an easy mode to repair..all do-able.” So why did the WCC choose to ignore this?

  6. Guy M, 11. October 2019, 11:43

    Sigh… I don’t want to believe the conspiracy theorists who think that the Council has great scheming plans for an alternative future for the Library. I think it is just being delayed through pure, everyday, institutional incompetence, the same way that most things in NZ also get done. But there are a few points that people seem to be forgetting.

    First, there was already a project underway for a significant revamp / upgrade of the Library interior, with a budget of $25 million.

    Secondly, the surrounding buildings built in the 80s / 90s have not fared too well. Remember that the black suspended entry building was (thankfully) removed as it was a severe earthquake hazard, as well as ugly as sin. Similarly the pinkish curved building half the Council was in is also quake prone – and who knows? Maybe will also get demolished. Certainly no work seems to be happening inside it.

    Thirdly – rising sea levels over the next 50 years will put the ground floor of the Library into paddling pool status at spring tides. Do we want to spend money now when it may be redundant in a few decades time?

    Lastly – all these events have given us (Wellington) the unique once in a lifetime chance to evaluate whether the current site and current building are indeed the best solution for the future. There are a number of “what if” scenarios that should be played out. Certainly at least we should be having the conversations while we wait.

    As noted, respected and experienced Structural Engineer Adam Thornton has said that it would be relatively simple to strengthen the building – helped by the existing building basement. One consequence of installing base isolation to the Library building could be that the building’s ground floor level could be raised at the same time, as subfloor columns would need to be cut anyway. A seismic moat would also need to be installed, and that would allow for new decisions to be made about entry levels etc. There is a lot of design work to be done and design decisions to be be made. But let’s do the big picture thinking first.

    Question One: do we even need a Library any more? Book usage is going down every year – falling dramatically as people resort to screens rather than folding paper.
    Question Two: if we do, do we need it here? Is there a better place ?
    Question Three: why aren’t we discussing these big issues now, up front?

  7. Karen Jones, 11. October 2019, 14:34

    Agree with Fooster McNab on the Council’s non transparent plans for the redevelopment of the Civic Center (including the undamaged Library).

  8. Hemicoupe, 12. October 2019, 21:24

    A city library is a core piece of infrastructure for any city. Its location needs to be readily accessible to the majority of citizens.
    Whilst a library falls lower on a list of council “core priorities” than water, waste, transport, housing, it is of greater importance than runway extensions, Shelly Bay developments and vanity art installations.

  9. Gerard, 13. October 2019, 8:25

    The undamaged Library has the perfect location. It’s great and that’s probably why the Council’s developer buddies wanted it for profits in redevelopment.