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Saving the Library? First: draft proposals and practicable options

by Lindsay Shelton
We’re told that today’s meeting of the Wellington City Council is to “expedite” decision making on the future of the Central Library, after last week’s meeting was postponed for a week, to get more information and advice.

The informal five-page paper [1] prepared for today’s meeting claims there will be an “expedited process and timeline.” But I’m not persuaded.

Consider the fact that last week staff were proposing public consultation starting this month and ending late in August. Does the new plan expedite this consultation? Well no. The new plan is for consultation in August and September.

Unless I’m getting it wrong, this is a delay – not even starting to consult till the month when it was originally meant to have been completed. And finishing more than a month later than originally planned.

So if consultation isn’t being expedited, what else?

At today’s meeting, which starts at 1.30 [2], councillors are being asked to support

the preparation of a Statement of Proposal ….. to outline the reasonably practicable options, their advantages and disadvantages of each, high level indicative costs and the Council’s preferred option.

As staff will be writing the report, it’s a reasonable guess that staff will be deciding what will be the “reasonably practicable options.” There’s no mention of councillors being enabled to participate in this choice.

The staff are also today asking councillors to add $2m to the 2020/21 Annual plan “to fund the completion of detailed engineering and architectural design and costings and the initiation of an appropriate procurement process.” For the preferred option? Or for all the reasonably practical options? They don’t make this clear.

But it does seem that the councillors won’t get to participate, till staff have chosen what they consider to be reasonably practicable options … and only much later in the year councillors will be allowed to choose a preferred option. A slow move towards getting the Central Library reopened, and painfully slow progress to enable councillors to represent the public’s concerns about this.

Staff explain the need for $2m:

Regardless of the option eventually chosen to house Central Library services, there is considerable work that needs to be undertaken before construction can commence. In order to better understand the benefits/risks and detailed costs of any of the building remediation, service upgrade and refurbishment schemes, it is necessary to have (as a minimum) developed design for each work package.

And further:

Currently, we have concept structural designs for three potential remediation schemes and a condition assessment for the building services, however we have no concept design or even scope for any potential refurbishment of the building … The design process is a major contributor to the … ‘critical path’ for this project, in that it is time intensive and without it, the next phases of the project cannot commence. The proposed process brings forward several streams of work, relating to the design that can be applied across several construction scenarios for the current library building. This design work will mean that once a decision is made on the building solution, the project will be sufficiently advanced as to reduce the overall project timeframe by between six to nine months from what was set out in the officers’ report to Council.

They’re referring to the report given to last week’s meeting, where discussion and decisions on the Library were postponed. The report gave three options, which I summarised before the meeting:

The most expensive option – for 100 per cent resilience – was estimated as costing $200m. The actual strengthening cost was however only $133m, with the remaining $67m being spent on building services and new fitouts. The mid-range strengthening cost was estimated as $151m, but it turned out to be $89m, with $62m for building services and fitouts. And then there was an even lower estimate for strengthening of $36m, which would ensure that the floors were held securely in place. (And to this total, staff wanted to add $54m for building services and fitouts.)

Because the meeting was postponed, councillors didnt get to discuss these options. Today we may find out if they are the ones favoured by the staff. And there should be time given to discussing the fact that last week a leading architect said the estimates were “ludicrous” [3] and a structural engineer said they were “unacceptable.”

And what’s the timeline for the new expedited process?

Don’t hold your breath. The staff want to be given a month to write the Statement of Proposal. Then sometime in July they want to have a council workshop where councillors will discuss their draft proposal. And then at a council meeting on 21 July, staff intend that councillors should adopt the statement of proposal. With the delayed public consultation to follow.

It won’t be till October that councillors will be allowed to choose their preferred option.

The October decision is to be followed in November and December by detailed project costings. The costs will have to be added to the Long Term Plan. Which means: more consultation in March and April next year. With the project and its funding not being finally confirmed till June next year.

Then … tendering will take three more months. So don’t expect any work to begin till the end of next year. That is, if councillors can decide what they want for the Central Library. And if the money can be found.

As for the public’s clearly stated wish to have the Central Library reopened as soon as possible. The timeline of the expedited process ends with the start of construction. Not a clue about any reopening.

Unique and irreplaceable? So when will it be reopened? [4]
Library estimates “ludicrous … unacceptable” [3]