The Council has made the decision to move ahead with plans for our new Civic Centre. This has been a decision more than 12 years in the making – it's involved a lot of research, consultation, studies. Everything from budget and design through to the tender process and construction site has been talked through more times than I can count; and we're still going.
There is concern we're spending too much. There is concern it's unnecessary. There is concern we'll be using an "outside" contractor. I hear what's being said, and I'm using this column to provide some detail.
Through an intensive and thorough tender process, NZ-owned, Auckland-based Canam Group was chosen to be the lead contractor for the project.
Some may question our appointment of a non-local company. Canam Group has constructed numerous other structures of similar scope, including the multi award-winning Waitakere City Council Civic Centre which exceeded the 5-star Green Council rating requirements. It incorporated cost-saving sustainable initiatives and was completed on time and within budget. It was also the first building in Auckland to have a "green roof" - leading the way.
Our council provided a fair and level tender process, and Canam came out as the lead contract team. This does not mean local contractors will be missing out. We anticipate many locals will be involved with aspects such as planning, construction, landscaping, labour and supplies throughout the project.
Do we need a combined Civic Centre? Absolutely.
The council employs 375 fulltime and part-time employees. Our staff members are spread across two different sites, which can make the organisation of a "simple" meeting anything but simple.
The division caused by working out of separate buildings has become more apparent with our district's growing population. In the most basic sense, having one site where staff all work together is more efficient, and will save time, energy and money.
It also means there will be only one door when you need to come to council, not two. The operational costs of running two separate, large buildings (Walton Plaza is leased at a cost of more than $1 million per year) is also significant, and when compared with the "whole-of-life" savings inherent in a new, sustainably-designed smart-build, there will be a definite long-term financial gain for the benefit of our ratepayers.
In case studies of similarly-designed "green buildings" in NZ, we now have proof that these buildings offer large cost and energy savings. The green-designed Christchurch Civic Building saves a massive $1.3 million annually in energy costs alone, and since its build in 2010 has become a major landmark in Christchurch's central city.
Another aspect I am really excited about is the fact the council is using a collaborative model for this project. We will be working closely with the contract team on everything from concept and design through to development and construction. We are committed to transparency of process, which echoes through into our new "one whānau" organisational structure.
The location of the Civic Centre is ideal, as it will provide easy access via shared paths and our road network, while also keeping the council's nearly 400 employees close to the city centre area.
Let me dispel one myth. Council staff do not receive free parking. Council staff do, however, enjoy spending lunch breaks in the city centre and in Cafler Park – both of which are an easy stroll away.
Do I support the new Civic Centre project? Wholeheartedly. I believe this will be a smart move financially and a brilliant move organisationally. Let's move forward together into a sustainable future for Whangārei District.
* Sheryl Mai is Mayor of Whangarei District.