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Save our Library – WCC failing to recognise the public’s concern

concern about library [1]

Opinion from ICW
Inner City Wellington (ICW) calls on the Wellington City Council to update the Wellington public about its intentions for the Wellington Central Library.

On 19th March last year Mayor Justin Lester announced [2] that the Central Library – “one of the city’s busiest buildings with 3,000 visitors a day including 500 children” – was being closed and, “even though it was not technically earthquake prone it gave WCC cause for concern that there were significant vulnerabilities with the building that need to be addressed”.

This devastating announcement was the result of a report from engineering firm Aurecon based on new MBIE seismic assessment guidelines for buildings that had pre-cast concrete flooring systems.

Since then there has been an enormous volume of articles regarding the library, and a huge public outcry calling for the iconic building to be strengthened and reopened. However, there has been little feedback from the city council, even after the following developments.

∙ May 7th 2019: it was reported by the DomPost that Paul Eagle understood the only option was to demolish the library. Three days later Mayor Justin Lester said demolition was likely [3]. But then he reversed his opinion, saying there would be options available to strengthen the building to 100 per cent, 67 per cent or 34 per cent. And later he said his first priority was to strengthen the building, [4] rather than pull it down.

∙ May 15th 2019: a peer review of the Aurecon report was issued by WSP Opus.

∙ July 16th 2019: Wellington.Scoop reported that at “a packed public meeting, a leading architect and a leading structural engineer both insisted that the library could be strengthened and reopened [5]. And they estimated a cost considerably less than the $100 million that had been stated by Justin Lester”.

∙ July 17 2019: Justin Lester announced a “Library Charter” [6] which said the Central Library would not be demolished “unless there is no reasonable alternative.”

∙ July 31st 2019: Professor Ken Elwood from Auckland was engaged to lead a group of construction and engineering industry experts to find the right way forward for the library [7]. There were also suggestions another peer review might be considered which implied the process might not be streamlined, but become one of endless reports.

∙ Nov 20th 2019: in an interview with Damian George, Mayor Andy Foster advised he expected the engineering report on the library “in January or February”, with options for the strengthening work and respective costs.

In February, Wellington.Scoop asked [8] why the report had not been released.

On March 17, the council disclosed a meaningless range of possible costs [9] to strengthen and redevelop the Central Library, but provided no details of the huge cost differences. The costs, which ranged from $96 million to $205 million, were part of the engineering report which the council had said it would release but failed to do so.

April 14: A Mayoral update signalled a range of projects WCC believed could be ready for construction in 6-18 months. These included Civic Square without any mention of the Central Library.

April 30: A press release issued by the WCC about a “Rates Rise Of 5.07%” specified a “new central city library network” but failed to explain the inference that the Central Library was to be replaced by a network of small libraries around the city.

Concerns are further heightened by information on the WCC website that the “future of the Central Library is part of the Council’s bigger Te Ngākau – Civic Precinct redevelopment programme of work” and this would incorporate issues such as “finding options for the Central Library building” and the “development of a strategy for future library services that will meet the needs of our community”.

ICW requests urgent clarification and assurance that this means ensuring continued use of our existing central library building.

Apart from the Town Hall, St James Theatre, and the city’s new Convention and Exhibition Centre multi-year projects, the draft Annual plan makes no mention of the Central Library. Instead, under Social and Recreation Key Projects, it refers to a “Central City Library Network”.

While the public continue to clamour for information on the library, it appears the Council is determined to lump the library into a “redevelopment of the Civic Square” without acknowledging public concerns and requests, or consulting on its future.

The Central Library should be the council’s first consideration, with any further development of Civic Square being tied to the library, just as it will be tied to development around the strengthened Town Hall.

ICW ask for a clear and unequivocal response from the WCC that our Central Library will be strengthened, and a date given for remediation work to begin.

Inner City Wellington represents residents, organisations and property owners who live, own and operate in the central city community.