Wellington Scoop

Demolition of Central Library likely, says Mayor

Report from RNZ
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester says there’s a “reasonable likelihood” the central library will be demolished and rebuilt.

The building, which was closed suddenly in March, was found to be at 15 percent of code, according to new standards, which means it is at risk of pancaking or collapsing in the event of the a major earthquake.

“I can’t have that happening in our city,” Mr Lester told Morning Report.

“While this is devastating – it’s gutting for us to have to deal with this – it does present a wonderful opportunity to build a modern library that’s focussed on the future,” he said.

Wellington.Scoop – May 9
The Wellington City Council has said this week that demolition is one option for the Central Library, which was closed suddenly in March after an engineering report showed safety concerns.

An RNZ report today quotes Mayor Justin Lester as saying the council is considering four options.

He said the first three are to strengthen it to either 100 percent, 67 percent or 34 percent of code, each with a different cost.

The fourth option would be to pull down the 27-year-old building and build a new one.

Before the closure, 3000 people, including 500 children, were visiting the library every day.

The Library – it must be a priority
DomPost: $10m cost of Library closure


  1. Bernard C, 9. May 2019, 9:20

    Whats wrong with the building? How about the option of just strengthening it to the building code and not strengthening it to the WCC’s new earthquake code? How about letting us read the engineering report? [The decision was based on new guidelines from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).]

  2. Andrew Bartlett, 9. May 2019, 11:11

    The full engineering report and the summary are linked from here:
    The summary of the summary is this: The design for this and similar buildings is for a building with floors that sit on the sides of the building a bit like planks in scaffolding. They are (essentially) held by gravity on a lip. The problem is that during a quake not only does the building get larger, reducing the effective lip (even in timber, see Old St Pauls), what is left of the lip can fill with quake derbies, and the floor panels deform so the floor doesn’t slot back on the next shake either. This failure mode is essentially considered new (wasn’t defended against about when this was built), which is why a report, not a quake, closed the building.

  3. tom, 9. May 2019, 12:14

    Bernard C, the engineers’ report was released ages ago.

  4. Bernard C, 9. May 2019, 15:01

    Exactly so closing the Library was not based on any building code failure. We’ve even had some moderate and sizable quakes and look no problems. Of course no building is going to be safe in the event of a large earthquake. All earthquakes are different in location, waves and depth.

  5. Tom, 9. May 2019, 21:13

    Bernard C, it was stated from the outset that the Library was technically within building code regulations, but it was closed after the MBIE investigation into the Stats House failure because it uses the same flooring and because that investigation turned up new engineering concerns across the board.

    Well-engineered buildings SHOULD be safe in large earthquakes and should cause no loss of life. This doesn’t mean the building won’t need to be demolished afterwards, it simply means it shouldn’t collapse on top of people at any point. Now there are plenty of buildings in Wellington that will cause loss of life in the event of a large, near earthquake, but one of the busiest public buildings in the country SHOULD NOT be one of them. The issue with the Library’s construction that meant it was closed down recently, namely the likelihood of the floors falling out of their brackets and pancaking, is simply not an acceptable contingency for a building with 3000 visitors a day – I’m sure you would agree.

    You rightly point out that all seismic events come with their individual phenomena – for instance, damage in the 2016 event seems to have been concentrated in Thorndon/Pipitea and to large floor-plate buildings around 5 storeys (and the Library fits into the second of these criteria) – and the truth is that we simply shouldn’t make the gamble that because the Library wasn’t affected in the 2016 quake in the same way that broadly similar buildings were, then we can count it out as being prone in the same ways that these buildings ended up being. There are far too many variables and the Library should be closed and its floors should be shored up in the most rigorous way possible. If this proves so expensive that a new building is feasible, then frankly I’d feel safer in a new base-isolated building…

  6. TrevorH, 10. May 2019, 7:50

    Let’s “demolish” the white elephant convention centre first and use the savings to rebuild the Central Library and the Town Hall. Sorted.

  7. Andrew, 10. May 2019, 9:26

    I was thinking about that the other day Trevor. Repurpose the convention centre as the new library. It is a shame about the location however… but at least the people paying for the building will get some benefit from its construction. And the Mayor (if re elected) still gets his name on the plaque.

  8. Lie Berry, 10. May 2019, 9:40

    Amen to that Trevor. Why are we building new infrastructure when we have so much existing work to do?

  9. Philip Matthews, 10. May 2019, 10:15

    Wellington is getting a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very small taste of what it’s been like to be Christchurch for the past decade. [via twitter]

  10. Bernard C, 10. May 2019, 13:24

    The library has withstood sizable earthquakes without damage. It should not have been closed. The options the Council handed out, after suddenly and without notice closing the library, are not the only ones. They are missing the geology while relying on engineering reports only.

  11. tom, 10. May 2019, 15:39

    Bernard C, the position you’ve adopted is irrational and reckless, the Library should be closed. Plenty of buildings in the first Christchurch earthquake survived with little damage only to collapse and kill people in the second. If a building is proven to be fundamentally flawed, then I’d rather not gamble on whether it will fail or whether the next large quake will shake in such a way as to not let the floors fall out of their brackets.

    If you want to see a geology report then write to the Council and ask for one. But what can you possibly expect from a geology report – it will say the Library is built on dodgy, reclaimed land.

  12. Casey, 10. May 2019, 15:58

    For a change I am not critical of the WCC, because the library construction is suspect. At the time it was built, the hollow core pre-stressed floor panels had only to sit 50mm over the beams at each end. This requirement for new buildings was increased in the mid 2000s to 75mm each end.

    This particular issue was recognized in the Statistics Building after the 2013 earthquake, so the upper floors were strengthened with beam hangers (angle iron brackets bolted to the beams to give the floor panels additional support), and as can be seen at the Westfield carpark in Lower Hutt. The lower floors in the Statistics Building had not been retro fitted by the time of the 2016 earthquake, and floor panels slipped off the beams. Had the earthquake been 12 hours later there would have been loss of life and serious injury.

    Can the library be made safe with beam hangers? Possibly, but I am not qualified to judge.

  13. Lindsay, 12. May 2019, 12:42

    The best suggestion I’ve seen so far is that the big (and unneeded) Exhibition space in the new convention centre should become the new Central Library, at least temporarily. Of course, how many years before it is ready? I see the mayor says construction isn’t starting till the end of the year…) Is anyone trying to find any other large empty central space where the library’s collection of 300,000 books can be made available?