Wellington Scoop

$151m or $200m – estimates for strengthening the Central Library.

andy and councillors outside library

The Wellington City Council today released documents giving engineering advice about the cost of strengthening the Central Library, or demolishing it. Without making any commitment to saving the building, the council also announced plans for two months of public consultation to find out what Wellingtonians think of their Central Library.

The documents, which were not released to wellington.scoop, are reported in the NZ Herald.

The engineers say it would cost $200m to strengthen the building to 100 per cent of the new building code. A mid-range repair option would cost $151.8m and bring the building up to 80 per cent of the code. But these totals are inflated because they include new building services and fit out upgrades as well as the actual strengthening.

Building a new library, the same size as the much-loved Athfield building, would cost $160m. Replacing it with a smaller building, the same size as the new Christchurch library, would cost $90m.

Figures similar to these were given to councillors in March, when they were told that options for strengthening and redeveloping the Central Library ranged from $96m to $205m (for a highly resilient scheme).

A summmary of the engineers’ responses is included in the agenda papers for next week’s council meeting, where the library is the main topic for discussion.

Here is today’s announcement from the council, with a variety of scenarios about whether or not the library would be saved. There’s no indication that the council has any feeling of urgency about the library – it proposes that recommendations would be presented to the council at the end of the year.

News from WCC
The Wellington City Council will consider information on the range of scenarios available to strengthen and refurbish the Central Library next week, alongside other options to accommodate Central Library services.

Mayor Andy Foster and Councillors will be asked on Wednesday to approve an extensive public engagement programme to ensure the wishes of Wellingtonians are built into any decisions made on the building and the service.

“We want a resilient, modern, exciting central library service which welcomes Wellingtonians and visitors, and connects them with the wider precinct,” says Mayor Andy Foster. “So we are sharing all the engineering and costing information to help create our collective community decision making.”

“This is a huge opportunity to move our Central library services from the 80s into the future. Many of us have seen how modern libraries like Christchurch’s Tūranga and our own Johnsonville Library in Waitohi are engaging and connecting people to both the collections, and learning in new ways. These will help set the scene for thinking about the different ways we may read, learn and play in our future Central Library.”

“The Central Library is a precious public space where everyone is welcome, residents are really missing it, we need to get is open as soon as possible,” says Fleur Fitzsimons, Portfolio Leader Libraries.

“The building’s interior also needs to be upgraded. This has not been done since it was built in 1991 and it’s no longer suitable for a 21st century library. We planned to consider funding to carry out this work after we opened the new Johnsonville Library in Waitohi,”

“As well as the physical need to refurbish the space, we know residents are calling for it to happen quickly. Wellingtonians tell us that a warm indoor space to study, meet and read is critical for them.”

“Closing the library last year – one of our city’s most popular and iconic spaces – was a huge decision that affected everyone,” says Councillor Iona Pannett. “It followed the Kaikoura earthquake’s impact on many other buildings with similar construction such as the Statistics Building, and the adjacent Civic Administration Building.”

“We need to decide on significant investment in a library which will continue to support people and enrich and connect with the heart of our city – Te Ngākau Civic Precinct.”

“From late June to August we’ll be talking to Wellingtonians about what we know about the building and asking what they expect from a modern library service, and how it connects to the wider CBD,” says Deputy Mayor Sarah Free. “These views will shape recommendations to the Council’s 2021-31 Long-Term Plan.

“I’m excited we’re engaging people early in the planning process as libraries are, at their heart, community spaces. It’s where we go to find our latest page-turner, learn, be entertained, meet, use the technology, get help, get warm and while away the time.”

“We ran a similar, but smaller, engagement process to create the new and hugely-popular Johnsonville Library in the Waitohi Hub, which continues to exceed everyone’s expectations. It’s a great example of how modern libraries can encourage connection, innovation and learning while providing spaces to relax – it’s like the northern suburbs very own community living room.”

Councillors are helping start the conversation by sharing what the Central Library service means to them. You can read some of the Councillors’ quotes below.

“It’s a place you can be without pressure or stress and pursue knowledge and adventure” – Mayor Andy Foster.

“A Central Library should be the heart of City. A place for people, learning, culture, and being with people without expectations” – Deputy Mayor Sarah Free.

“I studied as a teenager at the library, wrote parts of my PhD thesis there, caught up with friends and family at the café, and taken my toddlers to choose stories there. Libraries are social places as well as places for learning and curiosity.” – Cr Jenny Condie.

“I have fond childhood memories of visiting the Central Library with my grandmother. I remember thinking the library was a like a big living room – where everyone was welcome. Discovering the wonder of a new book, as a child, is a truly magical experience. As a mother I have enjoyed reading with my children and watching them find joy in books. Hapaitia te ara tika pumau ai te rangatiratanga mo nga uri whakatipu – Foster the pathway of knowledge to strength, independence and growth for future generations.” – Cr Jill Day

“The Central Library is a precious public space where everyone is welcome, residents are really missing it, we need to get is open as soon as possible.” – Cr Fleur Fitzsimons

“A central library is one of the most important spaces and places that is valued by so many people a city. Understanding what we want our library to be is an important decision. We have a chance to make a fresh start so please engage with us to let us know your vision for our capitals most important place.” – Cr Laurie Foon

“Not all of us grow up around books and reading. Libraries opened up a whole world for me and they continue to be a place of endless possibilities to learn and discover. I don’t want any kid to miss out on the joy that libraries gave me.” – Cr Rebecca Matthews

“The central library service meant to me as a kid that I had somewhere to go to wait for my dad to pick me up from school. As a teenager, it was a place I could go to breathe when the CBD seemed too busy, as a uni student I planned my first campaigns in Clark’s cafe. For some, a personal place or a study spot, for others a refuge. I grew up in that library, and now as a Councillor, I’d love to ensure those generations to come also have that place to learn and grow as I did.” – Cr Teri O’Neill

“I practically grew up in the central library as I spent so much time there. Getting it open again is a high priority for me so all Wellingtonians can go back to what has been called the city’s living room.” – Cr Iona Pannett.

“Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro, nōna te ngahere. Ko te manu e kai ana i te mātauranga, nōnā te ao – The bird who feasts on the miro berry, theirs is the forest. The bird who feasts on knowledge, theirs is the world. Knowledge is power and I can’t wait for the re-opening of our City’s Living Room, the Central Library!” – Cr Tamatha Paul

“The Central Library is more than just books – it’s a focal point where residents from all walks of life can browse, read and relax. The sooner it is back in action under one roof, the better.” – Cr Malcolm Sparrow

“As an avid reader of novels relating to military strategy, crime and investigation, without a central library service, I’d never be able to get my fix! Whether it’s Lee Child, Robert Ludlam, Tom Clancy, or some other amazing author, without the library much of my relaxation, learning and fun wouldn’t be the same!” – Cr Simon Woolf

“I’ve had a Wellington library card since I was three years old. Reading opened up whole new worlds for me, and the Wellington Central Library was my treasure trove – with the guidance of its wonderful librarians. Now I’m an adult, its reference section is the most important.” – Cr Nicola Young.

After the closure of the Central Library in March 2019 due to quake-resilience concerns, the Council moved quickly to set up a network of interim branches across the CBD. Arapaki Manners Library and Service Centre opened in May 2019, followed by He Matapihi within the National Library in October.

The third and largest branch, Te Awe in Brandon Street, is to open by the end of July. Customers will be able to order from the more than 370,000 items in the Central Library collection from late July using Te Pātaka – the new Collection and Distribution Centre.

Library users can browse the collections virtually, alongside the library catalogue (with staff assistance where required), and order items to pick up from the library branch of their choice.

Both services were on track to be available to the public from 18 May, but work had to be halted during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Council meeting is scheduled to run from 9:30am – 1:30pm, Wednesday 27 May. The agenda and papers will be available on the Wellington City Council website at: https://wellington.govt.nz/your-council/meetings/committees/council/2020/05/27

Background to the Central Library closure

The Central Library was not damaged in the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes. However other buildings of similar construction were badly damaged. The library was re-assessed after a change to the Government’s seismic performance assessment criteria guidelines for buildings. A decision was made to close the building, including the public car park and the footpath around the library, due to potential risk to the thousands of people who used the building every day.

Council officers held a technical workshop with a cross section of senior engineers to understand what structural remediation options were possible for the building – Council appointed engineers were then instructed to develop three structural remediation schemes on the basis of the workshop findings and preliminary designs have now been completed and costed. Options for a new build were also included in the costing exercise.

The building’s mechanical, fire, electrical and hydraulic services were also assessed by building services engineers and almost all of these need to be upgraded or replaced.

Wellington City Council’s Libraries Team has been undertaking a significant piece of work to develop a potential future central city library service model.

The interim CBD library services network will be fully operational in July once Te Awe (Harbour City site) and Te Pātaka (Distribution Centre) are opened.


  1. lindsay, 22. May 2020, 17:43

    “We are sharing all the engineering and costing information…” Andy – how about sharing it more widely, and sending a copy to wellington.scoop.

  2. sean, 22. May 2020, 17:57

    The Johnsonville library and the Christchurch libraries are pale shadows of the (former) Wellington Central Library offering. How can they seriously be considered as models for a central library?

  3. Traveller, 22. May 2020, 17:59

    Fleur Fitzsimons says residents are missing the library and the council needs to get it open again as soon as possible. Words words words. No indication from the council that there are any plans to get it open as soon as possible.

  4. michael, 22. May 2020, 18:39

    What on earth is going on? Wellingtonians have waited months for the engineering report and then the WCC releases it to the NZ Herald. Why wasn’t it released to Wellington.Scoop at the same time? Is this because scoop and its readers will ask the difficult questions that the WCC doesn’t want to answer? So much for openness, but it is not surprising given their track record on the library to date. It smacks of manipulation.

  5. Wendy, 22. May 2020, 19:06

    I am finding it hard to believe the comments from councillors regarding the library are little more than a WCC PR exercise, as their support for it over the past year has been noticeably lacking in the public arena.

  6. Local, 22. May 2020, 19:27

    Do Councillors really believe that their comments will open our library anytime soon? I don’t think so.

  7. Miranda, 22. May 2020, 19:39

    Hang on. We were promised the engineers’ report by the mayor to be released today. This is not the engineers’ report.

  8. Meredith, 22. May 2020, 19:51

    Why does the Council want to rark up the public with this nonsense?
    We are angry enough already. We know what we want, and the Council should that know by now. It’s been really obvious.

    We are not paid over $100,00 as councillors are, to talk and talk and talk. We have lives. Many have unpaid lives. None of us are paid just to talk and talk. Councillors should not be either. They are paid to make decisions, not to zoom us endlessly and pretend they don’t yet know what we want.

    We want civic square cleaned up, not tarted up at huge unnecessary expense. We don’t want more “consultation”. We want our library back.

  9. Hel, 22. May 2020, 21:28

    I have sympathy for the Councillors being asked to make decisions based on this. What was a straight forward problem – strengthen the existing building so that it can reopen – has been made so complex that it is incomprehensible. The way I read it the old library services are now supposedly at the end of their useful lives, seems this came as a surprise to Council and they had no budget or funding set aside for the services to be replaced. This services issue has nothing to do with earthquake strengthening, this has everything to do with a fundamental lack of stewardship of Council assets. Good luck Councillors trying to make any sense of this, let alone any decisions.

  10. Northland, 22. May 2020, 23:43

    What happened to the views of Adam Thornton et al from last year’s NZIA meeting: “It has not been damaged. It can be remediated… the cost of strengthening could be half the figure of $100m quoted by Justin Lester” and “The work could get underway in a couple of months, if there was the will to do it.”

    The Council needs to concentrate on the core problem of making the existing building safe and forget about the ‘nice to have’ extras. Everyone is tightening their belts except the Council it seems.

  11. Kara, 23. May 2020, 14:47

    Good luck to the councillors who are trying to minimise the cost of returning our central library to us. From what I can glean it seems that the cheapest option is to demolish the present building and build anew.

  12. Simon Swampy Marsh, 24. May 2020, 12:02

    Why use the old “council builds and owns and ratepayer pays” model. Why not a council/private partnership? A superb library space. Retail space and office or residential on upper levels. Councillors I hope you discuss this model as an option. [via twitter]

  13. michael, 24. May 2020, 12:43

    Whats wrong with just doing what Adam Thornton suggested at the public meeting. There are many other buildings with the same floor system in Wellington and they have been successfully strengthened at much less cost than the WCC is claiming. The problem is that the council wants to turn the library into another huge vanity project.