Wellington Scoop

The midcity music school gets a second chance, in spite of all the opposition

Dreams of building a national music school on the corner of Civic Square and Jervois Quay got a second chance this week when the Wellington City Council, in generous mood, allowed two more years for finance to be sought. Its decision ignored powerful opposition.

The council has always been enthusiastic about the idea, which would bring together activities currently spread between the Wellington campuses of Victoria and Massey Universities.

But the city’s music community does not share the council’s enthusiasm.

Wellington.Scoop was first to tell the story of why there is so much opposition to building a music school on this site.

The music school planners are also wrestling with the issue of cost. When first announced five years ago, the building was costed at $45m. That proved unrealistic. But then estimates reached $95m, and now there’ll be attempts to bring it down to $60m. Which would still leave the shrunken project with a $28m cash shortfall.

In the meantime, those who appreciate Jack Ilott Green are happy to know that it’ll survive for at least two more years.


  1. judy siers, 19. April 2009, 13:04

    Council have done well in granting a further two year period for fund raising. This proposal is such a grand vision for the Wellington, its people and for the site. Bringing cultural facilities of two universities together into the inner city is a sensible move, and with accessibility to performances and events it will grow the city’s cultural programme. The building will make good use of the largely unused ( except for walking through – a pathway can be maintained) and inappropriately positioned green space. The designs I last saw would enhance Civic Square, and there was talk of public viewing from a high-rise roof garden on the top floor. I hope that is still on the agenda.
    Let’s get on with it before the costs rise further.
    Judy Siers

  2. Pauline Swann, 19. April 2009, 18:18

    Before a concert on Saturday night, the views from Civic Square, through to the iconic boatsheds and lagoon, from the walkway and under the City to Sea bridge were wonderful, as were the lights on Mt Victoria which will all be lost if a high-rise building goes there. Not to mention the shadows cast across Civic Square.

    During Summer City, Jack Ilott Green was much used as an extension to activities in Civic Square and play equipment was very much enjoyed by families and school groups. Not to mention the Sculpture symposium.

    As a music lover and regular attendant at concerts in the Michael Fowler Centre and the Town Hall, I have no problems with a N Z School of Music but not on another one of our fast disappearing “green” spaces. Wellington is well served with two excellent music departments at Victoria and Massey. and many Wellingtonians enjoy musical events at both campuses. During the council debate, mention was made of the vitality that the students would bring to Civic Square. But as with the Law School in the old Government Buildings at Lambton, the majority of the students attend other classes at Victoria and a bus is provided to take them there and presumably this will be the case with the music students needing to return to Massey and Victoria.

  3. Peter Brooks, 20. April 2009, 11:53

    Judy Siers says that she has seen designs for the Music School and she likes them. Perhaps those of us who are still citizens of Wellington should also get the opportunity of seeing what the Universities and the Council are proposing. But my understanding is that the design team, including architects John Wardle, were only appointed in December so either they are very quick workers or Judy is mistaken.

    Maybe Judy is thinking of that sketch which was produced when the project was announced. That was solely to show what a building on that site might look like and was part of the usual presentational hype. The promise of a 600-800 concert hall, which would have been a community asset, apparently had much the same status, for that is no longer a Council requirement for gifting the site.

    The balance of advantage to the city in this project has certainly shifted and the Council has done little or nothing to explain this to the people of Wellington.

    On balance I still support the project. The alternative is not continued use as green open space ( the sort of councils we elect would not tolerate that). We would get another high-rise office building or hotel. In this project we are at least enhancing the central city with a building that serves a public purpose. Whether or not its lean budget will allow a building of appropriate excellence to be produced remains for all of us, Judy included, to be convinced.

  4. banjo, 20. April 2009, 14:55

    Speaking as a sound-tech with 20+ years of semi-pro mixing and sound-engineering experience … The biggest problem i see, is sound-proofing a building next to a main road. Trucks driving past produce strong low-frequency rumbles that are very difficult (expensive) to engineer out of a building.

    This makes the location bad for recording purposes, and the site is so small, that under 300 seats would mean high ticket prices to pay for the rental of the venue, and any pro performers’ wages.

    And it’s all so unneeded. Nearby is Queens Wharf and the Town Hall and the Michael Fowler Center and Te Papa and the City Gallery, and Cuba Street and Courtenay Place are full of venues.

  5. Di Buchan, 21. April 2009, 22:14

    Banjo has missed the point about the size of the auditorium now being proposed for the Music School. When this School was proposed in 2004, the Vice Chancellors of both universities stated, as part of their justification for building the School on one of the few remnants of public open space in the heart of the city, that the need for a 600-800 seat concert hall had “been recognised for many years”. Massey and Victoria Universities propose that a concert hall seating approximately 650 will be included in the NZ School of music. The concert hall would be a public facility managed separately from the school.”

    Now the Universities have requested that the requirement for a 600-800 seat auditorium be reduced to a 350-400 seat auditorium. This is because according to the university’s strategic consultants “it would be impossible to incorporate a 600-800 seat auditorium on the site without severely impacting on the other needs of the NZSM.” These consultants also noted that “to be nationally and internationally competitive, the NZSM does not require a facility of this size.”

    They too have missed the point. The universities are proposing to build on our public open space. Providing the city with an auditorium of a size much needed in our city was the price they were to pay for this privilege.

    It seems our councillors are prepared to just give the site away; next they will likely decide that providing public access is not that important either. Then as the cost of construction escalates and the amount of funding available declines, will the Council also be quite willing to compromise on the quality of the building? Will we get another Events Centre rather than a distinctive building of outstanding architectural merit , which addresses the waterfront and the Civic Square? This is what the Civic Trust sought, along with public access and use in its submission to the Council in 2004.

    Di Buchan

  6. Ann, 22. April 2009, 10:11

    Why not use the derelict Erskine College for the music school rather than cram a building into such a limited but valuable piece of open space. This might help Mr Cassells out with his dilemma of what to do with the buildings left in a dreadful state by the recently departed Learning Connexion. Also the chapel’s acoustics are fantastic.

    Both universities have adapted some of Wellington’s significant heritage buildings thereby ensuring their ongoing use, Erskine College provides such an opportunity. It just needs a few people to think outside of the square – Civic that is.