Wellington Scoop

Councillors vote to strengthen and reopen Wellington’s Central Library

central library closed 2


The Wellington City Council today decided to strengthen the earthquake-risk central library to the highest standard. All councillors voted in favour of strengthening the Athfield-designed building – with the work forecast to cost between $160 and $180 million.

News from WCC
Wellington’s Mayor and City Councillors today voted unanimously to strengthen Wellington’s Central Library, based on revised preliminary design, timeframes and cost information.

“Restoring our much-loved Central Library service as quickly as possible has been our priority and today we voted for ‘Option C’ – to strengthen the building to the highest level to reopen by May 2025. Work will now commence on detailed design, interior options and services design,” says Mayor Andy Foster.

“The robust additional design work involving engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and the construction sector has reduced the costs and risks of Option C compared to the new-build options. Although Options D and C are equally popular, the timeframe for Option C would see the doors open sooner – which is something we all want. This is a great news day for our city.

“I want to thank elected members, officers and eternal experts and the 1456 people who made submissions – which helped us immensely in our decision making,” says Mayor Foster.

“Getting the Central Library back open has been a priority for me, and I am pleased we are progressing the option which will see work begin on restoring this iconic building immediately,” says Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, the Council’s Libraries Portfolio Leader.

“The decision of the Council today protects this iconic and important building for Wellingtonians to use well into the future.

“The Council also agreed to ensure that we are making the library more accessible and that we consider ways to optimise the footprint of the building.”

Now Option C has been adopted, it will be incorporated in the draft Long-term Plan (LTP). This gives Wellingtonians another opportunity to consider the project alongside the Council’s financial position and other priorities for our city, including three-waters investment and Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

The LTP consultation will begin in March and will describe Option C in more detail, alongside updated information for all the other options which were considered. In June the Council will consider the consultation results and make the final decision on the project to be included in the final LTP.

The Central Library was not damaged in the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, however it 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 in March 2019, including the public car park and the footpath around the library.

More information on the revised costs and recommendations is available in the paper on the Council website.

Earlier Report from RNZ by Harry Lock
The future of Wellington’s earthquake-risk central library will be decided today at a city council meeting.

It’s been described as Wellington’s “living room”, it’s regarded as Ian Athfield’s most important public building, and it’s being considered for a Category 1 heritage status. But Wellington’s central library has also been deemed a risk to life: an assessment in March last year raised concerns about its safety in the event of a significant earthquake. Since then, it’s been closed, and the path to re-opening has not been simple, with different possibilities abound.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said: “This isn’t a simple job. There’s a lot of design work and obviously a lot of construction work any piece of building work that’s $150, $160, $170 million [needs], so it’s not a simple thing.

“But I think it’s really, really important we can set a stake in the ground and say this is the option we’re choosing.”

What are the options for the library?

Five options will be considered by the council. Three are varying degrees of strengthening, from the low-level $75m repair, up to the high-level $178m option, which would include base isolators.

The other two options involve demolition and either rebuilding on the same site or on a new site still within the Te Ngākau Civic Precinct.

Since July, Wellingtonians have been having their say on what they want to see done with the locked-up library. The results from that consultation found two options stood out far and away more popular than the others.

More than 40 percent of people wanted the building demolished and replaced with a new library on the same site (Option D). Just over 30 percent of people favoured the high-level remediation (Option C).

Reverend Stephen King is the chair of Inner City Wellington – the residents association for people living in the capital’s CBD.

“For us, it’s our local library,” he said. “The loss of the amenity is huge for us, and so one of our major weightings was to ensure that that amenity would be available to us as soon as possible.” He never considered a demolition option.

“We were more interested in the remediation, even if it included a refit, because you felt that we were primarily pushing back against the idea that a demolition and rebuild was in some way a better solution.”

While both options carry a significant financial burden, Foster said that was the reality of choosing a resilient option.

“Now there were some people who were telling us very loudly that we should just get it open, [and] do it cheaply. But what became very obvious is that if you did a cheap job, you’re ending up with an $80 to $90m investment anyway. That’s a lot to put at risk should there be an earthquake.”

What’s the outcome going to be?

While councillors will make the final decision on which path to choose, it’s the high-level remediation option that is being recommended by council officers. Officers said it delivers a better result considering heritage, sustainability and climate change factors, which were often cited in reports. It would also mean an earlier re-opening.

For many of the people who expressed a preference for demolition, they cited cost concerns associated with remediation. However, the cost for a high-level remediation (Option C) has been devalued down from a potential $199.8m to as low as $161.7m.

Deputy chair of the youth council, Laura Jackson, preferred the demolish and rebuild option as they wanted to have a library with a dedicated space for young people. She could be won around to the strengthening though, she said.

“Having had discussions with some of the councillors it’s been indicated that even if there was public expectation, we might still be able to find space in the revamped building for that use area. So as long as that can be incorporated into the redesign, we’re still supportive of Option C.”

Andy Foster will be voting in favour of Option C.


  1. Bob Dobalina, 28. October 2020, 12:17

    Why are the councillors even voting on the option when the public has come out in favour of demolition. They are elected to serve the people and the people have spoken whether they like it or not. Why even have public consultation?

  2. michael, 28. October 2020, 14:09

    @ Bob: Maybe this option was confirmed because many people chose the new build based on cost. But now, because the cost of remediation which was overestimated has come down significantly, and the addition of base isolation to the new build forced the cost for that up, it has become more economical and quicker to remediate the current building.

    The problem was with a consultation process based on council guesstimates which were clearly wrong and, as a result, the public ended basing their decisions on flawed information. And yes, it was a complete waste of time and money because we were presented with unsound facts.

  3. Bob Dobalina, 28. October 2020, 16:28

    So the remediation cost has come down. Can you name one council project in recent years which hasn’t gone over budget?

  4. michael, 28. October 2020, 17:59

    @Bob, no I can’t name one project, but it was very clear the first budget for the remediation was inflated and the one for the new build didn’t include base isolation. Oral submissions from experts claimed there was no way it would be cheaper to demolish an existing building and build a new one. Mind you, if the town hall is anything to go by, it will probably take years to do, so the costs will escalate as usual.

    Of course, the final cost will be determined by how much of a vanity project the council makes the redesign of the remediation. I am sure it could be a lot less if they do not change the shape of the building into Civic Square and Harris Street and go overboard with all their extravagant fitout ideas. The councillors should demand council staff and architects etc work to a fixed budget when doing the concept plans rather than letting them have free reign.

  5. Traveller, 28. October 2020, 19:52

    Congratulations to the mayor and councillors for making the right decision to save such an iconic building, for listening to what the people wanted, and for bringing down the cost. There’s no other civic building in Wellington that is so popular that it is used by more than a million people every year. They’ll all be waiting for the day when they can get into the building again.

  6. Hel, 28. October 2020, 20:07

    Michael, the statement that there is no way it would be cheaper to demolish an existing building and build a new one is a generalisation that is frequently incorrect. While I haven’t read the Council report it appears that there has been plenty of design and cost work done on the strengthen option but it’s not clear that the demolish and build new option received any similar design effort to reduce the cost. Might have thought the preferred option through consultation warranted a bit more effort and recognition.

  7. TrevorH, 29. October 2020, 7:25

    And all the while the 3 waters time-bomb kept ticking away, tick, tick, oh look – a squirrel! The WCC is avoiding the really hard issues the city must address to survive.

  8. Ben Schrader, 29. October 2020, 9:39

    I’m very pleased the Council has decided to remediate the Library rather than demolish it and start again. This is not only the more environmentally sustainable option – demolition releases embedded carbon and significantly adds to landfill waste – but it also means Wellington gets to keep a nationally-significant heritage building.

    The proposal to open the Library to both Harris Street and the Te Ngakau Civic Square is also brilliant. Creating ‘active edges’ will help revitalize both spaces and fulfil the original vision of making the area the city’s social heart.

  9. Polly, 29. October 2020, 10:00

    Well said Traveller … I attended the meeting and the councillors were very good and made the right decision.

  10. Wendy, 29. October 2020, 10:26

    I am so relieved the council has finally recognised the value of retaining the existing building, especially as it is not more expensive to do so. I only hope they can get it opened ASAP as inner city residents have not only lost their ‘suburban’ library but also their community meeting place.

  11. Benny, 29. October 2020, 10:58

    At the risk of being off-topic, I am amazed by our ability to find $180 million to fix the library versus mitigating climate change. A library? A climate? I know which one I’d choose if I had to. I’m not saying fixing the library shouldn’t be done, but it seems to me there is so much more urgency fixing our transport and housing infrastructure to mitigate the climate crisis, topics for which money seems very hard to find.

  12. Claire, 29. October 2020, 12:08

    Benny I agree. Infrastructure needs to come first. And borrowing to do it is the only way especially with the cheap money at the moment. WCC please do the basics they will never go away.

  13. Toni, 29. October 2020, 13:21

    While infrastructure is obviously extremely important, so is the library. With over a million people using it per year it clearly had an essential place in the lives of Wellingtonians, and in particular the inner-city residents who are now the biggest ‘suburb’ in Wellington by population. How many of those who oppose the Libraryblive in suburbs where they have libraries, halls, parks, sports grounds, play areas, schools etc readily available? Already the population in the inner-city is increasing rapidly and, as the council is intent on doubling the population in the inner-city this, along with infrastructure and green spaces, will make the only real community centre in the city a vital necessity. Just a shame they saw fit to continue with the $200 million convention centre.

  14. PCGM, 29. October 2020, 16:43

    It’s great news the Library will be renovated rather than demolished – but it’s a travesty it’s taken nearly 18 months to get to this point. By the time it finally reopens in 2025, it will have taken the council 7 long years to go from closure to opening. To make the obvious comparison, it only took 6 years to defeat Hitler!

  15. Trish, 29. October 2020, 18:32

    A decision at last. Pity the renewal of water mains and infrastructure is pushed back yet again. I have no faith the library remediation budget will not over run. Accountability is needed, keep to the budget like every household has to. As a ratepayer, I am totally disillusioned as I look at my current rate increase with no increase in income.

  16. Sarah Free, 30. October 2020, 9:11

    Really confident this is the right decision taking into account the balance of community feedback, engineering advice, resilience and sustainability. [via twitter]

  17. JAB, 30. October 2020, 13:22

    A decision. I would now like the council to separate the cost breakdown between structural repairs and service renewals and the mission creep around Civic Square and other street access and internal fit outs and repurposing that have been smuggled in, and vote again on the non structural items.
    There should be a further discussion and justification as to whether ratepayers want to provide eating spaces, free office space and internet access for commercial purposes, meeting rooms that don’t earn their keep, classrooms for fee paying schools, computerisation to enable lower income earners to keep up and apply for services when they have been offloaded and abandoned by both commercial and government organisations alike. Provision of some this should attract subsidies from the relevant organisations.

  18. michael, 30. October 2020, 13:22

    @Sarah Free: I believe councillors must now guarantee that council officers, and all others involved in the concept design etc, will be held accountable to a very strict budget to ensure the library remediation does not spin out of control and become another expensive WCC Vanity project. We need our library remediated under management that is pragmatic and accountable, to ensure the project does not go over budget. Private industry can do this, and it is well past time the WCC did as well.

  19. Julienz, 30. October 2020, 16:49

    @michael to Sarah Free : Plus one to those sentiments. Likewise I would like to see understandable budget numbers on three waters – all this talk of a billion here and a billion there is of no use. As a ratepayer I would like an estimate how much I am expected to stump up for years of neglect, and over what time frame. I am sure others would too.

  20. Joe Worker, 30. October 2020, 17:45

    Ben you’re not right in regard to demolition. It doesn’t all go to landfill. 95% of it is recycled. Only in extreme situations where a building is unsafe to enter and strip out means some material goes to landfill. Mind you, if the engineers built these new structures to last more than ten years we would all be better off. That’s where the real problem is. Flawed design in the first place.

  21. Northland, 31. October 2020, 16:44

    @Joe this is the question no one seems to be asking. How can a significant public building designed and constructed only 30 years ago require almost $200m of public money to bring it up to a modern safe standard? A massive systemic failure. And thus far I’ve not seen any sign of anyone owning up or admitting any error.

  22. michael, 31. October 2020, 18:58

    @Northland: My understanding is as follows:

    1. The building was built to the earthquake standards at the time, but these have been substantially increased in the last 30 years.

    2. The reason the library was closed (announced by the Mayor) was that “even though it was not technically earthquake prone it gave WCC cause for concern that there were significant vulnerabilities with the building that need to be addressed”. These were the hollow core floors which could have been remediated for about $36 million. But it became clear that the council had other ideas.

    3. The council is not only bringing the building up to current earthquake standards, it is also doing a total redesign inside, and outside into Civic Square and Harris Street.

  23. Meany, 1. November 2020, 11:00

    Michael you are correct. Although added to the cost is the unnecessary replacement of the building services (most of which need maintenance, according to a Council report, not replacement.) The Council has added an open-ended amendment to add to the building up and/or out … but it did not ask the people what they thought of this. (Almost half the space of the existing library was utilised for offices etc.) We still do not have our Central Library and will not have it for years. The Council has voted for work costing at least four times what it should have cost to fix it and open it.

  24. michael, 1. November 2020, 15:59

    Meany: I had no idea about the open-ended amendment. Surely this should have been part of the consultation as it can only mean more expense?

  25. Meany, 1. November 2020, 18:01

    Well yes, it should have been! Or not allowed to be included. Council spin since slid over it, (to mix metaphors!). It adds to the scope of the project and never had any reporting re added cost or extended time.

  26. michael, 2. November 2020, 0:19

    @ Meany: are you saying that, by adding this open-ended amendment “to add to the building up and/or out”, the WCC could end up changing the library completely, and ignoring what went out for consultation?