Wellington Scoop

Hidden: the engineers’ report on reopening the Central Library

central library closed 2

by Lindsay Shelton
We were due to see the engineers’ report on the closed Central Library in February. But the Wellington City Council hasn’t released it. What are they hiding?

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

expecting the 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.

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 last year that the city council named a group of construction and engineering experts who 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 been more than nine months since the report was commissioned. Andy Foster and all city councillors should be well aware of the huge interest in the “potential solutions” that the experts were hired to recommend.

And there’s also huge interest in what action will follow the report. But a couple of weeks before the experts were appointed, Kevin Lavery 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? We were all (mistakenly?) expecting that the new mayor and his new chief executive would be making things happen more urgently. After all – the Central Library is/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 a year ago, before he lost the mayoralty.

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 to do it? There’s no evidence of it, from the mayor or any of his councillors. Which leaves the dismal thought that the council is on its way to creating another Town Hall scenario – that beautiful building will have been closed for more than ten years before we get to use it again.

Conor Hill: Fixing the library – why we need it back
Lindsay Shelton: Fixing the library … and Civic Square
ICW: Save our library


  1. James, 14. May 2020, 12:15

    My local councillor told me that a paper from the chief executive on the future of the central library and civic square was coming to the full council for discussion on 27 May. [But where’s the engineers’ report? There should be no reason to keep it secret for so long, when its findings should be informing the public debate.]

  2. Traveller, 14. May 2020, 13:40

    Our city councillors keep enthusing about spending $180m on the convention centre, which will be used by very few Wellingtonians and will very often be closed. But they say nothing in support of getting the Central Library (open every day and used by a million of us every year) up and running again. Why such a bias? Why are none of them willing to recognise the strength of public support for the Library?

  3. Love the library, 14. May 2020, 14:00

    I, as one of many, voted Mr Foster in because he was hoping for a manageable bill to strengthen the Wellington Central Library. Didn’t Mr Moller and Mr Thornton say it would be easy to fix and not cost an arm and a leg. What has he been doing and why does he not just get on with it? Very disappointed in you Mr Foster.

  4. wendy, 14. May 2020, 14:14

    There have been all sorts of rumours about moving Capital E into the library and redesigning and modernising the library as well. This will cost millions and millions extra to get it open which may be used as an excuse by the council to justify not opening it. In today’s climate, we just need the iconic library building open ASAP, where it is, and as it is, for the million plus visitors it receives per year.

  5. Shirley, 14. May 2020, 14:49

    The Central Library is such an essential part of central Wellington, particularly as branches do not carry the range of books, or reference material. It also affects the ability to get books online.
    It needs to be a priority now please!!!

  6. Andrina, 14. May 2020, 15:20

    Show us the engineers’report. As a ratepayer I helped pay for it and this applies to all ratepayers and we have the right to see it. Does the WCC have something to hide?

  7. Meredith, 14. May 2020, 15:39

    No excuses Council – no not even Covid 19 or earthquakes or anything else. Just make a decision and fix it – tomorrow!

  8. Sally, 14. May 2020, 15:42

    Where in the world would you find a capital city without a Central Library. The present library needs to be strengthened – that’s it! Now just get on with it. The length of time and deflection to considering hubs or a different location is truly outrageous. I want priority given to fix the present central library and return it the people asap please.

  9. Trish Molloy, 14. May 2020, 16:09

    The Central Library in Wgton should be reopened ASAP. It was always full of people and is a major asset to Wgton. Council needs to stop delaying and muddying the water with options, very simple to act for all of us ratepayers.

  10. Jo Penman, 14. May 2020, 16:33

    Please give us back the soul of our city, the library.

  11. Barbara, 14. May 2020, 16:40

    How can Wellington claim to be a city without having a usable Library? It’s ridiculous. Who needs a Convention Centre? The Library is far more important. Get on with it!

  12. Concerned Wellingtonian, 14. May 2020, 17:11

    Surely councillors have seen the report?

  13. michael, 14. May 2020, 18:33

    We have waited well over a year for information regarding the library, while the council is spending money creating library hubs or, as described in the Annual Plan, “the new central city network of libraries”. $4.5million has been set aside in the Annual Plan for these hubs. Yet, apart from stating it has been closed, the only mention of a Central Library is as part of a programme for the redevelopment of Civic Square. This programme aims to “develop options for the Precinct including identifying the best approach and scenarios to allow informed decision making over key assets such as the Central Library service and the Precinct as a whole”. In other words, we’ll have to wait another 6-18 months for a decision on a Central library “service.” What does this mean? Why use the term ‘service’ as opposed to ‘building.’ Does it mean the “new network” will replace our Central Library? The public has a right to know what it is going on, and the right to access the full report.

  14. Al, 15. May 2020, 3:38

    I feel very sad every time I walk past the shuttered Central Library. Thank goodness for Wellington.Scoop’s contributors for keeping up the pressure on this issue, probing and asking the hard questions. Keep up the good work Scoop! And to WCC, get our library sorted!

  15. Barbara, 15. May 2020, 4:32

    Covid-19 has demonstrated that the future of white collar work no longer needs convention centres. Conventions have been ridiculously expensive junkets with ‘on the house’ air travel to attractive destinations for participants. We all know that Covid-19 is not really going away – it is only a convention away. The view of a new convention centre will be a joke from now on. Our iconic central library is a totally unique building that must be repaired. It is Wellington’s quiet and dignified place of learning for its citizens.

  16. Bev, 15. May 2020, 8:11

    Dump the white elephant Convention Centre – no one is having large gatherings in the future. Get on with the Central Library which is the lifeblood of the community.

  17. Philip, 15. May 2020, 9:11

    I used to come into the central city once every two weeks to go to the library, then have lunch, maybe some shopping. I have only been in once since the closure…it is too sad to realise that our Council just doesn’t care.

  18. Bob, 15. May 2020, 10:50

    I have a suspicion that the Central Library is “done & dusted” and that they’re just going to have a couple of mini libraries like the Manners Street one and say it’s the central “network”. Bet they’ll be sticking a tiny one in a corner of the old Central Library shell with most of the building turned into council offices for the mayor and hangers on.
    I think they don’t care what the public want (and what they were all elected on). They’ll blame covid19 which is rubbish. With all the loss of jobs coming and self-retraining needed and a real health requirement for big expansive public spaces where we aren’t crammed together, we really need the Central Library back and improved to help us get through the coming social/economic difficulties. More people will want & need free sources of knowledge to give them the tools to get them out of the crisis. Where else can you get all the knowledge you need, to explore changing careers, and the books & help with online resources to do it yourself, while benefiting the local community of all ages & financial worth?

    Fix the library… No actually make it bigger and better, we’re going to need it!

  19. Marion Leader, 15. May 2020, 11:55

    Because of the outcry from prominent voters, our local MP acted immediately to save the Concert Programme. Is he overlooking the outcry on the Library because we aren’t influential enough?

  20. michael, 15. May 2020, 13:38

    Bob, I agree with you. I am increasingly concerned with the millions being spent on WCC’s unexplained “new city library network”. Is this because the WCC has decided they don’t want to fix the Central Library and are trying to justify this by withholding the engineers’ report and ramping up the cost with expensive enhancements. Meanwhile they are ignoring public outrage over spending $200 million on a convention centre, and they admit the infrastructure crisis results from years of mismanagement.

  21. Steve, 15. May 2020, 14:50

    Is the engineers report accessible via an OIA request?

  22. Andrew, 15. May 2020, 15:21

    What can be seen from this are WCC’s priorities writ large: plenty of support for business through, for instance, the convention centre; no support for ordinary ratepayers through lack of support for the Central Library. Plenty of support for business through cash payments for deliveries; no support for ordinary ratepayers in setting up temporary walking / cycleways during level 4. Ordinary people can complain all they like on this forum but unless you’ve got the mayor’s ear on speed-dial like the members of the Chamber of Commerce, you might as well scream into the void.

  23. Concerned Wellingtonian, 15. May 2020, 15:50

    Steve, yes. But the WCC will stall and stall.

  24. EvilDwarf, 15. May 2020, 19:29

    Agree 100% with Traveller. This overhyped convention centre will be an underused white elephant; meanwhile Wellington has a sewage system which is shot to hell, and of the buildings around Civic Square we have a grand total of ONE which is currently fit for purpose.

    When are we going to get a Council which prioritises getting the fundamentals right, as opposed to multimillion dollar exercises in ego-stroking?

  25. John M, 15. May 2020, 22:23

    When we vote for one, Evildwarf!

  26. Wellington Inc, 15. May 2020, 23:39

    Making Wellington a place where people want to live by way of public facilities such as the central library can do more for the local economy than attracting visitors by way of, for example, the convention centre. Why haven’t any councilors contributed their views on this issue? The silence is deafening!

  27. Tony Corlett, 16. May 2020, 13:33

    Why was an Auckland academic employed to advise on the fate of our Central Library building? Wellington has Maurice Clark and McKee Fehl, who have a proven track record of saving buildings in our city, and at relatively low costs.

  28. Peggy Klimenko, 16. May 2020, 14:30

    “There have been all sorts of rumours about moving Capital E into the library and redesigning and modernising the library as well.” If there’s any substance to this, it indicates that the library is indeed not an earthquake risk. So. Let’s be having our Central Library reopened. We need “a new central city network of libraries” – as detailed in the annual plan – like we need toothache. There’s been no consultation about this: it’s just been snuck into the plan.

    “…temporary walking / cycleways…” Anything characterised as “temporary” is apt to become permanent (as we’re seeing with the small CBD libraries). Many of us who are older cannot use such facilities. We need a decent roading network, and adequate parking for the cars which we have no option but to use, when we need to travel around the city.

    I note reference to the next Council meeting. This will be conducted via Zoom; ratepayers are able to comment on proceedings, and councillors will see those comments. I urge everyone commenting here – and other concerned ratepayers – to avail themselves of the opportunity to observe that meeting, and to comment. This is a far more democratic process than we’ve ever had before. Please don’t let it pass without making full use of it.

  29. Kevin, 17. May 2020, 18:03

    At last year’s public meeting, Iona Pannett referred to a strategic retreat by the council from areas close to sea level. I am unconvinced of their commitment to the Central Library or to Civic Square. They seem willing to abandon Wellington’s most loved building and the city’s only heart in Civic Square. The silence on the engineering report is appalling. We need to all keep on the case.

  30. James, 18. May 2020, 14:04

    It looks like we are not going to have much chance to comment on options for the Central Library during the consultation on the annual plan for 2020-21. The draft plan talks about the ‘new CBD network’ and concludes:

    “We are currently working through the next steps for the Central Library building and a report on it is expected to be discussed by Councillors in May. An update on any implications of that report will be included in the Annual Plan when it is finalised in June.”

    So there will be a very short window between the engineering report finally appearing and the closing date for comments on the annual plan.

  31. Greg, 20. May 2020, 17:18

    While physical work is not being done to a building, this does not mean hard work is not being done. I have worked on many new build and earthquake strengthening projects in my 20+ years in the business, and design, engineering and architecture all take time and are limited by how quickly consultants are able to deliver. This is standard for every significant building ever. The failure to plan is a plan to fail. Those of you jumping up and down about “getting on with it” would be the same people who would be jumping up and down if the project went significantly over budget – which is highly likely if you rush into it with only a fraction of the information. Also worth noting that the new information that was learnt from the Kaikoura quake which informed the tough decision to close the library was still needing to be fully understood by the engineering community before they could’ve gathered together for a meaningful meeting on possible remedial actions. Managing to do this in a few months had me impressed. The Council has an obligation to spend ratepayers’ money wisely, even more so in this Covid enviroment. I would prefer they take the time needed so we get this wonderful opportunity right. Do agree however that councillors need to stop squabbling. How embarrassing!

  32. Sean, 20. May 2020, 22:27

    It has been over 14 months since the library closed. The matter was not progressed in any way until a public meeting months later forced then councillors to consider the matter.
    After further months of nothing, the current councillors and the mayor then made election promises that the library would be repaired.
    The weakness in the library was understood in the lead up to closure, the trigger issue was the promulgation of tighter objective standards, which the building then failed.
    The much delayed “engineers report” could have been commissioned within two months of the closure and pointed the way to the detail and practical engineering phases. The remaining months that have delivered nothing was the time that could have been used to concept design a fix, work out the delivery method, procure and then start work, or at least be on a trajectory to doing so.
    This did not happen, because in April last year the WCC officers and council apparently had no intention of progressing a fix, but eventually had to change tack due to public pressure on councillors.
    All the signs are that we will now be diverted by a host of diversionary tactics. Renewing building systems, sea level rise, changing the concept of how the space is used so it is no longer what we would understand a library to be, etc. All this will delay what should be a challenging, but entirely doable, structural upgrade.
    So after 14 months we are not even at the starting point of a upgrade design and a build contract. None of this delay is excusable.