Wellington Scoop

City Council told its estimates for strengthening the Library are ‘ludicrous … not acceptable’

council library meeting

Wellington structural engineer Adam Thornton today challenged the estimates from the Wellington City Council for strengthening the Central Library. He said the strengthening costs were not acceptable and the work could be done for much less.

Mr Thornton, who has more than 40 years experience in strengthening and restructuring Wellington buildings, told a council meeting this morning that he had spoken with three substantial Wellington contractors and they confirmed his belief that the estimates for strengthening and retrofitting the Central Library were significantly greater than for comparative projects in the city.

Further, he said: “It is just not conceivable that the cost of strengthening a relatively modern building should be significantly greater than the cost of a new building.”

Adam Thornton also said that the estimates were significantly inflated by the inclusion of a 20 per cent contingency. And the allowance for building services and fitout were “extremely generous.”

He confirmed that the cheapest option for strengthening the building, which would add supports to hold the floors in place, would get the building to 60 per cent of NBS and make it safe. But he believed that base isolation would be the best long term solution, though it could be postponed for ten years till the council paid for other major projects such as the convention centre.

He acknowledged the strong public desire to get the Central Library reopened.

Architect Roger Walker said that demolition of the Central Library would be “unthinkable.” He said the building was recognised throughout the world, and was part of a Category 1 listed heritage precinct. Its architect Sir Ian Athfield was one of only two NZ architects knighted for the services to architecture.

He echoed the concerns of Adam Thornton and said he was “incredibly unbelieving” of the costings for retention versus demolition. “I have no idea where these ludicrous figures come from.”

He said his firm does a lot of strengthening of Wellington buildings and there was a relatively simple way of bolting the floor to a steel beam to increase its safety.

“You are more likely to be hit by a bus or a car than killed in the library.”

Kate Linzey of the Wellington Architectural Centre said the Central Library was a ground-breaking post-modern building. “It is essential city infrastructure. Its emptiness is traumatic. We cannot wait for years to get it reopened. It needs to be partially restrengthened and then the next steps can be considered.”

Former mayor Helene Ritchie said a barricaded library in the heart of the city would be an example of council ineptitude and paralysis. She asked councillors to make a unanimous decision to remediate the building in the most cost effective way and to reopen it in the earliest possible time.

The council postponed its decision till next week. Mayor Foster said he recognised that the public wanted a decision as quickly as possible, but he said more advice was needed. He would then aim to have a preferred option to be considered next week.

Adam Thornton said the estimates should be reviewed by a group of city builders. engineers and architects with a brief of “we want to make the building safe and it needs to be affordable.”

Earlier news from Wellington.Scoop
Wellington city councillors will this morning be asked to approve a staff paper which would keep the Central Library closed till at least 2026. The meeting will be livestreamed on youtube starting at 9.30.

Among the public speakers at the start of the meeting will be Wellington.Scoop editor Lindsay Shelton (speaking at 9.50) and distinguished Wellington architect Roger Walker who speaks at 10.00.

Most importantly, the highly experienced structural engineer Adam Thornton is speaking to the council at 10.10. Last July Thornton said that strengthening the Library could be done for $68 million. The work could be carried out in stages, he said, with re-entry being possible after the first stage. Work could start in two months if the council had the will … The council did not respond to his proposal and did not show any will to get work started quickly, in spite of enormous public concerns.

Instead, council staff are today recommending that $200m is necessary in order to strengthen the library. A figure which is disputed by many people.


  1. Peter S, 27. May 2020, 11:06

    In a surprise move, due to legal and other issues, Mayor Foster postponed the discussion and decision on the Central Library to next week. However, a distinguished lineup of submitters gave the councillors a good earful on what should be happening with the library. That is, it should be fixed and reopened post haste!

  2. wendy, 27. May 2020, 12:39

    The library issue is a prime example of council officers pushing their agenda against a tide of public opinion. What started off as an investigation to remedy the library’s hollow core floor problem has ended up with WCC officers pushing for another $200 million vanity project and no central library for 10 years.

    Lindsay Shelton made it quite clear to the meeting that this issue has been in the top 5 issues in Wellington, and recent articles published on Wellington.Scoop generated so much interest the website was overloaded. Yet, over the past year public opinion has been ignored and promises broken, while council officers pursued their own agenda.

    The WCC needs to take a good look at the way they are operating and make changes to ensure that the public voice is fully and democratically represented in the early stages of determining the way forward in projects such as this. As it stands, the relationship between the WCC and the public has degenerated to a ‘them and us’ scenario with no winners. Time for councillors to sincerely commit to one of the council’s core responsibilities and empower genuine democratic local decision making and action by communities.

  3. michael, 27. May 2020, 12:50

    The public speakers this morning were impressive and informative but, given they each only had 5 minutes to speak, and there was virtually no opportunity for questions and discussion, one wonders how much consideration their opinions and evidence will be given. If councillors did not get the message today, there is little hope the public can expect their voices to be heard.

  4. Mince and Cheese, 27. May 2020, 13:07

    Interesting. It’s almost as though the costs were inflated to incentivise the demolition of the library. Ulterior motives? Surely not.

  5. Sarah, 27. May 2020, 13:34

    I nearly cried as I walked past the library yesterday. Quiet streets, empty shops … and the library. And as for the litter on the pavement going up Aro Street. We’re going to have work hard, Wellington. [via twitter]

  6. Ben Schrader, 27. May 2020, 13:58

    The Council needs to come clean about why it continues to dither about about the future of the library. We’ve known for over a year now that it can be remediated for much less than the $200 million figure now being bandied about. This figure feeds the suspicion that Council officials (if not all councillors themselves) have already decided to demolish the building and build a Wellington version of Christchurch’s Tūranga.

    But while Tūranga is at the cutting edge of library design and utility in 2020, who’s to say it will be in 2050? We can assume with the rapid rate of technological change presently happening it won’t be. At that point should it be demolished because times have moved on? Of course not, because it’s designed to be adaptively re-used.

    This is also true of Athfield’s Library. Any architect worth his or her salt would be able refit a strengthened Wellington Library to meet modern library requirements without sacrificing the aesthetic integrity of Ath’s design. You might think the building is old hat and ugly, but it’s clearly among New Zealand’s best postmodern buildings, designed by one of New Zealand’s best ever architects. To demolish it would be an act of cultural vandalism.

  7. Michael Pringle, 27. May 2020, 15:17

    Hear hear Ben. Totally agree.

  8. Sally, 27. May 2020, 15:34

    The report is an accurate reflection of the ridiculous situation of our beloved library – thank you.
    I agree with the reader comments, in particular Ben Schrader’s “...it’s clearly among New Zealand’s best postmodern buildings, designed by one of New Zealand’s best ever architects. To demolish it would be an act of cultural vandalism.”
    The Council need to listen to the people and get on and fix it NOW!

  9. Helen, 27. May 2020, 17:14

    Get a move on – take the expert advice and get our library back in action. Then spend all that extra on a project we really need!

  10. Guy M, 27. May 2020, 17:36

    Has the Elwood engineering report been released yet – and if so, can someone tell me where it is? [I have been asking for the report for weeks, and the latest response was that it would be online by the end of last week. When this didn’t happen, I was then told – by the mayor – that it would be online on Monday. This doesn’t seem to have happened either, so we must assume that the council does not want anyone to see it. – Lindsay.]

  11. Pseudopanax, 27. May 2020, 20:01

    Citizens Of Wellington! Rise Up and March to DEMAND that the Central Library be reopened immediately! Put Yellow Stickers all over it and “Enter at Your Own Risk” signs on the door and let people decide for themselves while councillors and the Mayor prevaricate over wild estimates and agendas from the Earthquake Industry. Huge surprise (not!) that their estimate to demolish and rebuild is millions cheaper than restrengthening. If the building was demolished, then all of a sudden the rebuild budget would triple and take ten years…

  12. Paul, 27. May 2020, 23:35

    Does it really matter what the cost estimate is? Public sector projects seem to constantly suffer from cost blowouts, as contractors and other providers slurp from the trough of public money, seemingly unhindered by any deterrent.

  13. Sarah, 28. May 2020, 8:06

    There is no mention of the demolition costs, monetary and environmental. And what about the budgeted upgrade money? Has this been factored in? [No money has yet been budgeted for this work.]

  14. D'Esterre, 28. May 2020, 11:55

    In this household, we are increasingly suspicious that no such engineers’ report exists. It may well be the case that the Mayor and Councillors believe that there is one: certainly we’ve been told as much by a councillor. But it’s beginning to look as if the former CEO, the former Mayor and Council staff have kept councillors in the dark about what Elwood’s role would actually be.

  15. D'Esterre, 28. May 2020, 12:09

    Pseudopanax: “Citizens Of Wellington! Rise Up and March to DEMAND that the Central Library be reopened immediately!”
    Exactly. Where do I sign up for this? I’ll even bring my own placard.

  16. Johnny H, 28. May 2020, 13:25

    The problem with a bare minimum repair job (which probably means whacking up 100mm L-brackets along the beams to support the floor panels) is that so much of the rest of the building is worn out. The carpet would be 30 years old and was filthy. I saw librarians setting up buckets to catch drips coming through the roof on the top floor when it rained, and one escalator out of six always seemed to be broken. The men’s toilets were inadequate. The ground floor was freezing in winter with floor-to-ceiling single-glazed glass and drafts coming in the sliding front doors. The air-con ducts were covered in dust and peeling paint. I really really miss the central library but to say that the council should just fit a few thousand L brackets and then re-open it without refurbishing all the other things at the same time is short-sighted.

  17. K, 28. May 2020, 13:41

    I don’t agree with reopening the library immediately with yellow stickers “and letting people make up their own minds”. That would be irresponsible. However I would be very interested to hear more from Adam Thornton and the Wellington firms he mentions that would be able to do strengthening work for a lot cheaper than what the council advised.

  18. James, 28. May 2020, 14:39

    @Johnny H identifies another problem – why did the Council allow maintenance to slip so much? The paper for councillors talks a lot about needing to have a new style of library service but there seems to have been no thinking about this before the current issues were identified more than a year ago.

  19. michael, 28. May 2020, 15:03

    The vibrancy has been ripped out of the heart of the city by a council unable to make the serious decisions. So, no town hall, no library, no Saturday market, all gone and replaced by hoardings and do not enter notices.

  20. Northland, 28. May 2020, 18:15

    I disagree that simple strengthening and reopening of the library can be described as ‘short sighted’. Its a practical, achievable plan that would restore library services to Wellingtonians within a reasonably short period.

    The Council needs to be more practical and do things step-wise rather than attempting enormous projects and delivering only at the end with a ‘big bang’. This latter approach is too risky in terms of cost and timeframe blowout. If we follow that route we will have no library for 5 years and more.

  21. Jean-Pierre LaGrande, 28. May 2020, 18:17

    I’ve been a long time (distant), interested and surprised spectator in all this and I can only assume the new and old councillors are either impotent or incompetent or both. Perhaps they are all hamstrung by previous arrangements made with developers and backers?

  22. michael, 29. May 2020, 19:13

    Has anyone seen the report yet? It was promised again last week – and then for Monday. Are we going to see it before the councillors get together next week re the library?

  23. Lindsay, 29. May 2020, 19:19

    A couple of people have told me the report doesnt exist. Yet it was commissioned last July, and Andy Foster said he was due to receive it in January or February. In recent weeks the mayor has said several times that it would be published online. His latest date for publication was last Monday. But as nothing has appeared, what can we think?

  24. michael, 29. May 2020, 22:38

    I think there is something in the report that does not suit the WCC plans, otherwise why not release it?