Wellington Scoop

The bells, the bells

bell tower navigator

by Lindsay Shelton
Peals of bells have always been heard at the end of major catastrophes – to mark the ceasefire after a world war for example. In Vincent Ward’s 1988 feature film The Navigator, the bells ring out to bring an end to a plague that had engulfed the medieval world. So that’s a link to the bellringing which was heard from Wellington churches at lunchtime today.

I was in Karori at midday, so I didn’t hear the bells as they celebrated the arrival of Level One.

But the bellringing would have been a reminder that it’s no longer possible to hear the spectacular sounds from the city’s carillon, which used to ring out over the city during many lunchtimes.

No one has explained why, but after it was closed and then reopened (two years ago) after four years of strengthening, the carillon was closed again in February – needing more strengthening.

The bells themselves may be the problem – 74 of them at the top of the tower. Did the seismic experts forget them when they were hired by the Ministry for Culture to carry out the strengthening work? Apparently not, as this report reveals:

June 12: Eight year delay after engineers warned Carillon was quake risk

This is also a reminder of the unresolved issues about what level of strengthening should be acceptable to enable Wellington’s Central Library to reopen. Fifteen months after the library building was closed, all that’s agreed is that the city council has moved remarkably slowly in failing to reach any decisions on getting the building fixed. (For the 1.2million people who used it every year.)

Almost all councillors last week spoke enthusiastically about wanting to strengthen and reopen the Central Library building as soon as possible – they agreed this is what they have been told by so many people in the community.

But staff advised them against such single-mindedness, and instead produced six options to be considered. Three of them for demolition of the iconic Athfield building (which only one councillor supported.)

Structural engineer Adam Thornton had earlier spoken in favour of the least expensive way of strengthening the building – spend $34m to add supports to hold the floors in place, which would get the building to 60 per cent of NBS and make it safe to reopen. His longterm preference was to add base isolation, but he said this could be done at a later stage when the council’s finances were in better shape.

Will the council choose this way of making the Library safe and getting it reopened? Will they be persuaded to choose the $200m option, which will be impossible to finance? Surely they won’t allow themselves to be pushed into demolishing the building, which is loved by so many?

books out

While we wait and wait, moving trucks parked outside the Library are loading up with books, all to be stored in a warehouse in Johnsonville. Forget the pleasures of browsing and making unexpected discoveries. The Central Library is being converted to an online experience. Unless or until the city council makes a decision to save it.


  1. Mavis, 9. June 2020, 20:23

    Councillor Nicola Young posted on the Save Our Library facebook site and talked of the most expensive $200million option for the library. Why? Is she supporting demolition?

  2. michael, 10. June 2020, 0:06

    @ Mavis: on Newstalk ZB a couple of weeks ago Nicola Young said she supported building a new Library for $160 million, even though building experts have consistently said it would be more expensive to build a new Library (including the considerable costs of demolition) than to strengthen the existing one.

  3. D'Esterre, 10. June 2020, 11:36

    With regard to the Carillon and the strengthening thereof: none of this makes any sense. How is it possible that it was strengthened, yet a detailed seismic assessment wasn’t done beforehand? How on earth would anyone know what strengthening was needed without a prior assessment?

    I know that DSAs were being carried out before 2014. Something about this suggests that we aren’t being told the full story.

  4. Local, 10. June 2020, 15:23

    None of the earthquake strengthening anywhere seems to make sense.
    The Town Hall was strengthened in the early 1990’s and now it is being strengthened again – for how much and taking how long?

  5. Mark Shanks, 16. June 2020, 9:21

    The Navigator is one of NZ’s greatest films and many of its images recurred to me during lock down. Thanks for referencing it.