Wellington Scoop

Town Hall strengthening costs go up to $112m – it’ll take 4 years

Wellington Town Hall strengthening project

The budget for strengthening the Wellington Town Hall has gone up from $90m to $112m.

This compares with $152m spent by Christchurch to strengthen and restore its Town Hall – a job that has already been completed.

The City Council chief executive Kevin Lavery called a media briefing this afternoon to announce the increased costs in Wellington. He said Naylor Love have been chosen, from five bidders, as the preferred tenderer.

Councillors will vote next week on whether to accept the increased budget. The work is no longer scheduled for completion in 2021. Today’s briefing was told that the project will take four years and 2023 will be the year when the Town Hall reopens – ten years after it was closed.

News from WCC
The Chief Executive of Wellington City Council Kevin Lavery will be asking Councillors to approve additional funding for strengthening the Wellington Town Hall when they meet on 27 February.

This revised costing and recommendation comes after he requested more detailed testing and investigations which have taken place over the last 18 months.

Estimated costs for the project have increased to $112 million, plus contingency, mainly because of the complexity of the project and the busy construction market.

Kevin Lavery said: “We are excited to press the go button for the Town Hall. Once complete, the Town Hall will be a world-class musical venue with improved rehearsal and performance space. It will be a base for civic and community events and will be part of a centre of musical excellence for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand School of Music Te Kōkī.

“This has always been a challenging project. We will be retro-fitting base isolators and new foundations to a 114 year old building sitting on reclaimed land with 60 metres to the bedrock. Much of the work will be below the water table. This was never a project for the faint-hearted.

“After a competitive process involving five construction companies, Naylor Love has been selected as the preferred tenderer. The tender price combined with other direct costs is $112.4m and the project will take four years. There is no question that this is one of the most complex re-strengthening, restoration and refurbishment projects undertaken in recent times in New Zealand. Aspects of the tender price could increase due to construction unknowns, so Council will be asked to approve a contingency to cover these risks,” he says.

PwC were asked to undertake an independent review of the Town Hall procurement project. Richard Chung, a partner, PwC said: “The Council’s procurement process has been thorough and robust. Council have assembled an experienced in-house team and have used a range of seasoned external experts. The price reflects the complexity of a major heritage project, the underground works, the four year timescale and the capacity constraints in today’s construction market. We have suggested some areas where risk and contingency management can be sharpened as the project moves forward.”

Under earthquake legislation, the Town Hall has to be either demolished or in the process of being strengthened by the end of 2019. Demolishing the Town Hall is not an option because of its heritage status.

The DomPost quotes mayor Justin Lester as saying councillors will have all the information before them when they vote next week.

“There are now three available options: do the work and secure the building’s long-term future, leave it there, or demolish it. The last two options are problematic. My view currently is that Wellingtonians want us to get on with it. It will only become more expensive in the future and the Town Hall is an important part of our city.”

The Town Hall has been closed, as a quake risk, since 2013, and councillors have already voted unanimously three times to strengthen it.

VIC and WCC Signing Ceremony on Auditorium Stage in Wellington Town Hall

Last October, as part of plans for a national music school, the council signed a “binding agreement” with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Victoria University’s School of Music to strengthen the building to make it a centre for civic events and the heart of a unique centre of musical and creative excellence, education, cultural connections and community engagement.


  1. Wellingtonian, 19. February 2019, 9:17

    What on earth is going on now with our Town Hall? The mayor and council have stuffed around for so many years that the cost escalations have apparently ballooned. How predictable!

  2. greenwelly, 19. February 2019, 10:46

    Why is the Mayor not fronting this?? When the URM strengthening was announced last year, Mr Lavery was not mentioned, but Mayor Lester was quoted extensively….
    Oh silly me it’s 2019 and the Mayor and Crs are up for re-election and don’t want to be near anything difficult or controversial.

  3. Simon, 19. February 2019, 14:12

    While I am not a fan of council decision making (and this is a good example of this), you only know the actual cost when tenders are received. Yes, calling tenders earlier may have resulted win a lower cost, but the work that is has been done indicates that is a complex task.
    Given the cost increase and the associated costs of strengthening or demolishing the other Civic Square buildings the question is whether a better outcome for Wellingtonians would be to demolish and rebuild the entire complex in a manner which is better suited to current and future needs rather than retrofit buildings designed generations ago.
    Marsden College is a good example of future, not past thinking in this regard.

  4. Andrew, 19. February 2019, 14:13

    By fronting perhaps Mr Lavery is accepting some of the responsibility for the cost blow out, seeing as this has happened under his watch.

  5. Traveller, 19. February 2019, 15:07

    Demolition is, of course, not an option. Councillors must vote next week (for a fourth time) to strengthen and restore the magnificent Town Hall.

  6. Bernard C, 19. February 2019, 16:43

    What about a sensible option. Don’t demolish it and don’t pay 112 million.
    Just open it up for use, no building will be safe in a big earthquake and it’s already been earthquake strengthened once and recently was refurbished.

  7. Harry M, 19. February 2019, 17:11

    That is the thinking man’s option Bernard. Shame the Councillors couldn’t think outside the square.

  8. Wellingtonian, 19. February 2019, 19:04

    Closed for ten years – shame on the Council. Didn’t former councillor Helene Ritchie predict that, when it was closed? Of course councillors should support it reopening…but they’re doing a King Canute? Holding the water back …..”We have to go below the water table” the CEO identified as one cause of the cost blowout. Well the basement is already below the water table, and has been since 1904. And it’s not that unusual in Wellington for some basements to be below the water table. Another problem the CEO identified: “it is on reclaimed land.” Really? Well we had better base isolate all of the CBD.
    Come on Council do us proud. Just open the front door, put the floor back, and we’ll bring our own seats to the opening.

  9. KB, 19. February 2019, 19:13

    Anyone have any idea what the cost difference between the $112 million+ re-strengthening plan is vs. demolishing and rebuilding an identical structure with modern building materials? If it looks (and sounds) the same, does it really matter if the atoms are different?

  10. aom, 19. February 2019, 22:07

    Given the duplicity that invariably surrounds WCC’s big plans, the escalating prices for the Town Hall restoration are plucked out of the air and constantly inflated … Strangely, the cost creep syndrome doesn’t seem to apply to the Conference Centre which no doubt will end up costing well over $200M, with ongoing ‘running costs’ in excess of $4M per year.

  11. Marion Leader, 20. February 2019, 8:41

    Wasn’t the pavement next to the Town Hall closed so that earthquake-proofing could be done? How much longer will they keep it closed?

  12. Wellingtonian, 20. February 2019, 9:14

    What a legacy for Lester and this Council-cost-creep syndrome, and nothing to show for it except a boarded up Town Hall in the heart of our city… with the floor ripped out. What a sad mess.

  13. Phil Quin, 20. February 2019, 14:52

    I think I’ve worked it out. The Wellington mayoralty is job-shared between Bad News Kevin and Good News Justin. [via twitter]

  14. Chris Horne, 21. February 2019, 17:24

    The Wellington Town Hall fiasco has a huge potential benefit. It is that the essential huge cost of base-isolating, then restoring, our acoustically perfect and historic Town Hall will ensure that the Wellington City Council will not be able to fund an expensive, unnecessary and unpopular demolition and reconstruction of our popular Frank Kitts Park, and imposing on Wellingtonians a proposed Chinese Garden which would be closed from dusk to dawn.

  15. Louise, 21. February 2019, 20:45

    That would be the silver lining Chris.

  16. aom, 21. February 2019, 23:02

    The Frank Kitts Park fiasco is chicken feed against the cost of strengthening the Town Hall Chris, but given the fractious relationship between NZ and the Chinese at present, the $5M+ for the garden is more than likely not forthcoming. The children’s play area was always a smokescreen for the ulterior project but, in any case, would only have been a shadow of Lower Hutt’s Avalon Playscape. Meanwhile the Conference Centre vanity project is proceeding at pace.

  17. Harry M, 22. February 2019, 6:06

    We are given only 2 options and not the thinking man’s option that Bernard put forward. An option which is to fix the floor (take it out of the salary of those responsible)and reopen the Town Hall for use.

  18. Dave B, 22. February 2019, 15:17

    I’d be quite happy to go back into an un-yet-again-strengthened town hall, just like we all did for decades. Happy to take the chance that in all probability it won’t collapse catastrophically while I’m in there. Actually I’m more concerned about the much bigger risk of crossing the busy road to get to it.

  19. Neil Douglas, 23. February 2019, 12:52

    #Me too Dave B. Well said! The Town Hall has withstood shake after shake for a hundred years or so. There are too many kill-joy worriers in the world today.

  20. Casey, 23. February 2019, 17:14

    Dave the “nanny” state sets the rules and councils are duty bound to follow them to the letter. Council officers are not allowed to think for themselves.

    A recent example being 61 Molesworth Street deemed to be in imminent risk of collapse after the 2016 earthquake so the tenant on the ground floor wasn’t allowed to go in and rescue tools of trade and client’s possessions. Would have taken all of 10 minutes.

    The fact that the building took 4 times as long to demolish than as planned might indicate that it wasn’t the degree of risk suggested.

    If the Town Hall is in such a perilous state why are people allowed to work inside it pulling up the floor ?

  21. Alana, 23. February 2019, 18:04

    The Town Hall, the Opera House, the Basin Reserve Museum Stand and St James all had unsafe earthquake ratings. Some were closed and some left operating – the lack of transparency about the different treatment and the seeming random or selective closures only creates public skepticism and distrust of WCC and its decisions.

  22. Tony Jansen, 25. February 2019, 11:00

    I think what probably is driving the seemingly ransom and illogical closure of buildings is the insurance industry.
    The whole city is on a Faultline. Most of the historic buildings weathered the recent large shakes far better than the poorly designed and built modern alternatives. I for one think our Town Hall is a masterpiece and acoustically perfect. Just look at what Auckland have done with theirs. The Capital of culture is looking embarrassingly incompetent, and considering the mayor holds this portfolio, he is looking as impotent as his tenure has turned out to be. Just reopen it as is and we’d all be fine with that. I for one have no qualms about going to concerts in a reopened Town Hall.

  23. KeithWellington, 26. February 2019, 12:26

    If the DomPost report is to be believed, ratepayers are now looking at $130 million, or more, to strengthen the Town Hall. Whilst I agree that this facility needs to be available for use again, any expenditure must ensure a much extended life. I can recall at least three earthquake strengthening attempts in the past 30 years, all of which did not extend the operational life of the complex substantially, but each one may have ensured that we didn’t see a collapse in 2013 or 2016. As I recall, one of the strengthening exercises was the installation of a sheer wall which was built on the non compacted fill, rather than extending it down to the solid original sea bed.

    I wrote three years ago with my suggestion to rebuild the outer walls of the Town Hall, retaining, especially, the concert chamber. That suggestion did not go down well with others who see that there is historical value in the hundreds of tonnes of plastered over non reinforced masonry. Masonry which has the potential to kill and maim.

    It is interesting to read Mark Dunajtschik’s view that dismantling the façade and rebuilding to look the same using modern standards could lower the cost of bringing the Town Hall back into use. The concert chamber could be retained, the rest of the complex could be rebuilt around it, adding to that chamber’s strength. Internally the council chamber, mayor’s office, etc., could be rebuilt to look exactly as they do now. The exterior of the building we see today looks substantially different to what it looked like in the early 1900s.