Wellington Scoop

Waiting for the library plan


by Lindsay Shelton
We’re due to see the engineers’ report on the closed Central Library this month.

The timing was announced in November by new mayor Andy Foster, who told the DomPost he was

expecting an engineers’ report on the library building to be completed by January or February. That would give the council options for strengthening work and the respective costs.

He didn’t mention the option of demolition. Reporter Damian George quoted him as saying:

… he hoped the library’s repair bill would be “eight figures, rather than nine.”

It was at the end of July that the city council announced that a group of construction and engineering experts would be “finding the right way forward for the Central Library building”. Professor Ken Elwood of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Auckland was the leader of the process. Council chief executive Kevin Lavery said

“His considerable expertise will be invaluable in helping the Council continue to gather and consider the wide variety of industry perspectives on the Library’s structural vulnerabilities. The challenges are complex and we need to fully understand these so that we can find the right solution for the future of this prominent Wellington building.”

How long will it take to agree on that solution?

The group will be encouraged to give their views in relation to finding potential remedial engineering and construction solutions. The Council and Professor Elwood will then be able to scope the potential remedial options for the Library including indicative costs. There will most likely be a further peer review of this advice which will ultimately inform a report back to the Council. Mr Lavery said the process must be rigorous and thorough, and is expected to take two to three months.

It’s now taken more than twice that time, and Andy Foster will be well aware of the huge interest in the “potential solutions” that the experts will be recommending.

But will their report lead to action? Not according to Kevin Lavery. A couple of weeks before the experts were appointed, he was insisting that no final decision could be expected from their report:

Once we have that information we will commission detailed engineering assessments on the possible solutions (including indicative costs) and a peer review of this advice. At the same time, work will be done to develop the future service model for the library and that will involve community engagement. All of this work will ultimately inform a report back to the Council on the options and a recommended way forward. It will be a rigorous process and will take well over a year to complete.

Well over a year? Let’s expect that the new mayor and (soon) the new chief executive will make things happen more urgently. After all – the Central Library was the city’s most popular building. It attracted a million visitors every year. Its closure has created a highly-visible dismal dead heart in the centre of Wellington.

And let’s expect that there’s no further use of the “demolition” word, which Justin Lester used last May. The experts who spoke at the packed public meeting in July were all clear about this. Architect Gordon Moller: “It has not been damaged. It can be remediated.” And structural engineer Adam Thornton: “The hollow-core floors would be an easy mode to repair, by adding bracing which would be relatively straightforward to install … The work could get underway in a couple of months, if there was the will to do it.”

Where’s the will? Or are we going to be stuck with a Town Hall scenario – that beautiful building will have been closed for ten years before we get to use it again.


  1. Michael Pringle, 3. February 2020, 17:17

    Agree completely, Lindsay. We need to put the pressure on to get this undamaged building opened.

  2. Helene Ritchie, 3. February 2020, 18:33

    I can’t wait for action. Maybe January..not. Maybe February … 4 more weeks to go. Maybe? Maybe not?
    Oh no not another report! We want action. Just get on with it!

  3. Andrew, 3. February 2020, 21:02

    what’s the bet we get a brand new convention centre before we get a fixed-up library.

  4. michael, 4. February 2020, 0:23

    The experts who explained how the library could have been fixed were completely ignored last year after the public meeting. When is the council going to get it. The million Wellingtonians who love and use the library every year are getting very fed up. So stop spending millions on “nice to haves” and fix the library now!! There are some things that are too important to rip down and this is one of them.

  5. David Mackenzie, 4. February 2020, 8:44

    Spot on. Feed our souls.

  6. Peggy Klimenko, 4. February 2020, 13:55

    In this household, we’re infuriated by the delays in fixing the library. Moller and Thornton are correct: remediation is feasible, and much less expensive than demolition and rebuild. Remediation ought by now to have happened.

    We harbour strong suspicions that, if the library is demolished, a replacement will never be built.

    And now, we’re informed that the Frank Kitts Park underground parking building is an earthquake risk and will be closed. And yet: the land above the building isn’t at significant risk and won’t be closed. This is the last straw: enough already! Earthquake risk my foot….

    It’s past time that we the citizens demanded that Council exercises common sense and a modicum of pragmatism. It’s our money that they’re spending, after all. Or not spending, at least not on the things that need money spent on them.

    Fix the library. Finish the Town Hall. Take the Frank Kitts carpark building off the “earthquake risk” list. Fix the ageing underground infrastructure. That’ll do to be going on with.

  7. Alana, 4. February 2020, 15:53

    The great loss of the Central Library is for the school kids and adults needing a place to study and work, as well as the open shelves of books.
    Why not convert the convention centre into a Central Library? The conventions can wait – put Wellington residents first.

  8. Dave Armstrong, 4. February 2020, 21:03

    I think our councillors are conscientious and hard-working. However, I agree that it’s hard to see much tangible progress on things like the library. Bear in mind we have a mayor who has only a minority of councillors on his side. That is how civic gridlock can occur. [via twitter]

  9. michael, 5. February 2020, 9:30

    Last year at the public meeting, Wellington engineer Adam Thornton (experienced in working on hollow-core floors in Wellington buildings) explained how the library could be fixed relatively easy and quickly. But now we have a consortium led by an Auckland Professor working on this – and once the recommendations are finally finished, they are going to be subject to a “peer review”. Really!!
    It seems to me that WCC have become unable to make any decisions, and we are likely to have years of reports, peer reviews and no action.

  10. Jane Cooper, 5. February 2020, 11:11

    There does seem to be a lack of will in this. Or maybe some key councillors don’t get the value and importance of the library in the same way as they value a convention centre.

  11. michael, 5. February 2020, 13:08

    Jane, I am beginning to think the WCC is looking for reasons to redevelop all of Civic Square and pull our well-loved library down. If common sense and good business practice had prevailed after the earthquake, the WCC would have cancelled all their “nice to have” plans to ensure they had funding for the very important “need to haves”. Instead we still have no town hall or library and wastewater pipes are breaking all over the city, but we will have a $200 million convention centre, which the average Wellingtonian will never ever use.

  12. John Rankin, 5. February 2020, 14:39

    Thirty years ago, NZ introduced Tomorrow’s Schools, which made schools independent entities under the governance of boards of trustees. Perhaps it’s time for Tomorrow’s Libraries, with the Wellington City Librarian reporting to an independent board of library trustees. This would better reflect the importance of our library system to the cultural life of the city, rather than being just one of 14 (count ’em) business units reporting to WCC’s Chief Operating Officer.

    I am left at the moment with the sense that libraries are not that important in the overall scheme of things, as far as WCC is concerned. A board of trustees would bring a sense of urgency and clarity of vision which is currently lacking. Does NZ need a Public Libraries Act, instead of subsuming libraries (almost as an afterthought) under the Local Government Act?

    There is no reason given for why the decision on how to fix the library will take “well over a year”. Adam Thornton, who lives and breathes this stuff, says “The work could get under way in a couple of months, if there was the will to do it.” Does WCC lack the will, and if so why? Or is it a bad case of analysis paralysis?

  13. Thorndonite, 5. February 2020, 16:26

    I see earthquake stickeritus has reached Tinakori Rd with a cafe on the corner of Hill St getting a notice stuck in the window warning patrons of danger. Stickeritus is spreading.

  14. Ron Oliver, 5. February 2020, 17:03

    I’m not quite sure about Andy Foster’s reported quote that he hoped that the cost of library would be 8 not 9 figures. Does that mean the ratepayers could be paying in excess of anywhere from $10,000,000 to in excess $100,000,000? It seems to imply that there is a possibility that some may think it better to sell our library to a private concern. Perhaps some Corporations have whispered into his ear about upgrading our system by gradually introducing AI and the more modern arrangement on line communication.
    Less staff to deal with and a more modern electronic blip payment service or payment directly by rates. All electronic stuff. The Council will then have more time to think of other things like shoes, ships, earthquakes, and sealing wax etc. Wouldn’t you think?