Wellington Scoop

Less costly and quicker – revised plans confirm strengthening and reopening Central Library

library revised 1

Wellington city councillors were told this week that staff will be confirming their recommendation that the the Ian Athfield designed Central Library should be strengthened and reopened. Engineers have revised the cost estimates which are now significantly reduced. Whereas the cost of building a new library has increased.

The cost of the high-level option C to strengthen the Library building has reduced to $161.7m – $178.7m (it was previously $174.4m – $199.8m). With this plan, which includes base isolation, the Central Library could be reopened in May 2025.

The cost of Option D – demolishing the library and rebuilding it – has increased because base isolation has been added to make it comparable with the strengthening option. Building a new library is now estimated to cost between $167m and $183m – and the timeframe has been changed. A new library would not now be open till March 2026.

Councillors have already voted for Option C, at a meeting in July. At that time, it was estimated to cost as much as $200m. They will now be encouraged by the fact that the cost has been reduced.

With the new figures, the plan is now for a recommendation that Option C – strengthening the existing building – should be included in the draft Long Term Plan, because the design can deliver a safe, resilient, future-focused library building to support a modern library service, and will be quicker to deliver than a new build.

Option C will also address impacts of climate change by using an increased floor height and relocating building services above the flooding level. Plus it’s likely to be more sustainable than Option D as there is no demolition and the revised building life expectancy of under Option C is now only 4 years less than Option D.

Option D will not be recommended when compared to Option C because:
• the margin between the publics’ preferences was small – 10% in submissions and 1% in the survey.
• the previous cost difference was $39.1m between C and D, however this has now reduced to $4.6m (top of range)
• the new design process has provided reassurance it is possible to remediate the existing building and create a modern, future proofed library, similar to a new build
• the risk of delays due to legal challenges regarding the perceived heritage value of the building
• demolition of the building does not contribute to sustainability outcomes

The change in cost estimates emerged over the past 3 months as a core design team developed the Library designs to a Preliminary Design level. The team included structural engineers, building services engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and project management expertise. To ensure that the work was as comprehensive and robust as possible, specialist resources were added to the design team; this included a consulting engineer to provide additional engineering expertise; construction and procurement expertise; and geotechnical engineers.

The results were peer-reviewed by a group of engineers led by Professor Ken Elwood (Faculty of Engineering, University of Auckland) and an independent Quantity Surveyor. The value provided by these specialist resources, together with the architectural overlay on the structural design, contributed to the wider design team’s comprehensive review of the engineering designs, buildability, and construction methodology. This resulted in several significant changes being made to the concept designs, particularly for Option C (the high resilience scheme).

Progressing the design work has:
• reduced the level of uncertainty in remediating the current building
• uncovered other options for how this is carried out and
• reduced the level of contingency included in the costs to manage unknowns and assumptions.


  1. Fleur Fitzsimons, 17. October 2020, 14:00

    [Content warning: over the top enthusiasm for central library coming…]
    Getting the central library open again ASAP was one of my top election priorities. The public consultation with residents showed the one thing Wellingtonians agree on is retaining a public central library in Wellington. It is a treasured community space for people from all walks of life. While more people favoured demolition – this was by a small margin and heavily influenced by cost. I will be supporting a base isolated, re-strengthened Library with some minor architectural re-design to make it more accessible. This option protects this iconic and important building for Wellingtonians to use into the future. This option also provides protection from flooding which is already a major issue on this site. I originally supported a quick repair job but I have been convinced that we should do it once and do it right.
    Young people have been telling us how frustrating it is that they no longer have a large hang out and study space so this must be included in the new design. The Central Library closed on 19 March 2019, the Mayor and I asked Council officers to speed up the process to get the Library open again. The Council officers have done an excellent job of consulting residents.
    The Council has consulted with the top 5 engineering firms in Wellington as well as leading architects and builders. These groups deserve special thanks as they have put aside their own commercial interests to work together to come up with the best option for the city. The high resilience option is now estimated to be $21 million dollars cheaper as more design work has been done meaning that less contingency is needed.
    If this strengthening option is supported by Councillors, work will continue now and it will be open in May 2025.

  2. Helene Ritchie, 17. October 2020, 15:33

    Good leadership Fleur and Andy. It’s great that the Athfield library will not be demolished.
    Now, it’s up to the wisdom of the mayor and councillors to still make the decision, and one in the best all round interest of the city and current and future generations.

  3. Dave, 17. October 2020, 23:19

    I haven’t worked in months. I’m not the bloody cash cow. I can’t afford your library, your town hall, your convention centre, your runway extension. I need water though. Priorities. As a resident you put a 6.2 percent rates rise on me and it’s looking like 15 percent plus for future years. In real terms much more because apparently my house is worth more so somehow I need to find more money. Where are the cost savings like other councils have done? These are hard times. Absolute necessities are what’s needed. Everything else are nice to haves. Cut your costs. Defer these big expenditures until better times.

  4. Thomas, 28. October 2020, 14:10

    “The Council has consulted with the top 5 engineering firms in Wellington as well as leading architects and builders. These groups deserve special thanks as they have put aside their own commercial interests to work together to come up with the best option for the city.”

    Fleur Fitzsimons must live in cloud cuckoo land. The only interests that have been put aside are those of the rate payers who will fund the initial sum and the inevitable cost overrun.

  5. greenwelly, 28. October 2020, 15:54

    The cost estimates are just that, estimates. Let’s wait until they have a signed contract to see what the real cost might be. Also I hope there is a large contingency built in because as anyone renovating a house knows, you never know what you will find once you start stripping things back.