Hidden behind Tauranga's noisy, controversial museum debate is a quieter issue shaping up to be even more divisive:

What should the city do about its 30-year-old, too-small, leak-prone, weird-smelling but otherwise maybe okay-for-now central library?

When a Tauranga City Council committee voted near unanimously on December 5 to build a $50m museum at Cliff Rd, they also voted on the future of the city's main library on Willow St.

The vote was evenly split: half in favour of building a $30m replacement library on Willow St - for which ratepayers would pay $25m - and half against.

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Committee chairman Larry Baldock swung the vote in favour of the rebuild.

Some councillors argued that, given the city's heavy load of expensive capital projects, the current library could make do for now with minimal repairs.

On Tuesday the full council will take another vote on both the museum and library recommendation. Three councillors are yet to have a say and could swing the library vote either way.

The committee had previously ruled out a $5m minimal remediation project after an independent report found it would only add $1m of value to the building.

Library manager Joanna Thomas said that report, as well as other research and community engagement done to date, supported the case for a bigger, better central library sooner rather than later.

The results of a council survey of 400 people on their willingness to pay for a new central library. Supplied/Tauranga City Council
The results of a council survey of 400 people on their willingness to pay for a new central library. Supplied/Tauranga City Council

The current two-storey facility had ongoing issues with leaks, cramped spaces, and a lack of natural light. People complained of weird smells and poor toilet facilities.

The library's flaws came to a head three years ago when the upstairs floor was closed due to the discovery of toxic mould. It has since reopened.

Thomas said the library was built 30 years ago when Tauranga's population was half the 128,000 size it is today.

At 3000 square metres, it was comparatively small for a modern city central library.

Rotorua, population 71000, would open a new 4000sq m central library next year.

Thomas said Tauranga library had 200 class visits a year.

"When there is a preschool class and a primary school class and families trying to visit on the same morning it is, quite frankly, chaotic," she said.

A visit from a children's book author last week had to be held in Papamoa as there was no space in the central library and community requests for the library to run more programmes and host more activities could not be met in the current facility.

The council's cultural facility investment leader, Carole Canler, said there was a good case for investment.

Holding off would be a "disservice to the community" who would be stuck with an unfit facility for another eight to 10 years.


Library complaints

2017
-36 complaints
- Two about air-conditioning and layout

2016
- 47 complaints
- 20 about the smell, poor toilets, poor layout and decor

New library: how they voted last time

The city transformation committee voted on December 5 on whether to include $25m funding to rebuild the library in the council's budget for the next 10 years:

For: Larry Baldock (x2), Kelvin Clout, Max Mason, Terry Molloy
Against: Steve Morris, Leanne Brown, Greg Brownless, Gail McIntosh.

Street view: the future of the central library

We asked library users what they think of the current library and what they would like to see in the future.

"I think its a great facility and we are lucky to have it. It's okay at the moment but it is starting to look a bit shabby."
Katherine Huggard, Mount Maunganui

"It's a fantastic library ... but it's a growing city so it has to has to keep up in that respect."
Phillip Brown, Welcome Bay

"We need a bigger one for the future. They should build a bigger play area for the children."
Michele Brown, Welcome Bay

"I can see how the library probably needs to be bigger. There could be more access for people using the computers."
Colin Wilcocks, Tauranga

"The facility is quite nice. I work in the central city, so it is convenient. I come in here almost every day."
Jason Morgan, Tauranga