New documents reveal it would be far cheaper to demolish Wellington's closed central library and start again than to fix it to a standard high enough to withstand a serious earthquake.

Wellington City Council has today released engineering advice and high-level estimates around how much cash ratepayers will need to shell out to save the building.

It was closed in March last year because of seismic concerns stemming from new engineering guidelines released after the Kaikoura earthquake.

Getting the heart of the city beating once more looks like it will be a difficult operation.

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Several options are on the table to strengthen the building to varying levels of the New Building Standard (NBS), as well as options for new builds of different sizes.

The most expensive repair option, and therefore the most resilient, would cost $199.8m and bring the building to 100 per cent of the NBS.


The cheapest repair would cost $90.8m and would only bring the building to just 40 per cent of the standard.

It means after a significant earthquake, the damage could be irreparable and the building unable to be occupied again for about a year.

The mid-range repair option would cost $151.8m and bring the building up to 80 per cent of the code. The building would still be considerably damaged in a big earthquake.

But demolishing the library and replace it, or build it someone else entirely is also on the table.

A new library the same size as the existing one would cost $160.7m.

But replacing it with a building the same size as Christchurch's new library, Tūranga, would only cost $90.4m

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Wellington mayor Andy Foster says getting buildings in Civic Square back open, including the library, will be important for the city's post Covid-19 recovery. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Wellington mayor Andy Foster says getting buildings in Civic Square back open, including the library, will be important for the city's post Covid-19 recovery. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

Next week Mayor Andy Foster and councillors will be asked to approve an extensive public engagement programme to consider options for the library's future.

"We want a resilient, modern, exciting central library service which welcomes Wellingtonians and visitors, and connects them with the wider precinct," Foster said.

"This is a huge opportunity to move our central library services from the 80s into the future."

Foster said in a media briefing held via Zoom this afternoon that he was keenly aware one of the key challenges in a post-Covid-19 world would be drawing people back into the city.

He said such a large area of Civic Square being out of operation did not help.

Wellington mayor Andy Foster says the city wants a resilient, modern, exciting central library service. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Wellington mayor Andy Foster says the city wants a resilient, modern, exciting central library service. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

Before the library's closure, more than 3000 people went through its doors every day.

Foster acknowledged the dollar estimates to bring back the library would weigh heavily on the council's finances.

"Whichever option we choose they [the numbers] are basically large and larger."

The council is also feeling financial pressure from the massive Let's Get Wellington Moving transport project, the city's ageing water infrastructure, the rest of Civic Square's seismic issues, not to mention the economic fallout of Covid-19.

Libraries portfolio leader councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said residents were missing the library and the council needed to get it open again as soon as possible.

"As well as the physical need to refurbish the space, we know residents are calling for it to happen quickly. Wellingtonians tell us that a warm indoor space to study, meet and read is critical for them."

The library closed after it was assessed against new guidelines proposed by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) after two floors in Statistics House partially collapsed in the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake.

These guidelines, known as the "Yellow Chapter", are not yet part of legislation and cannot be used to determine whether a building is earthquake-prone because MBIE is still gathering evidence and feedback on them.

But it's difficult to ignore findings under the guidelines when they have a dramatic effect on the numbers.

Technically, the central library has an NBS rating of 60 per cent but engineers calculated that could drop as low as 15 per cent when taking the guidelines into consideration.