The University of Auckland's Maidment Theatre is to close for good after costs for seismic strengthening soared to more than $16 million.

The theatre, which is set in the university's central city grounds, was temporarily closed last December amid concerns over its earthquake safety standards.

Today, university bosses announced to staff the theatre would not reopen because it would cost too much to bring it up to modern safety regulations.

• Quake caution closes Maidment


"Following more extensive evaluations, I have regrettably concluded that it is not a cost-effective option to proceed with a seismic strengthening and general upgrade of the Maidment," vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon said in a newsletter sent to staff, and seen by the Herald.

"While the sums involved, provisionally estimated to be in excess of $16 million, would allow the Maidment to be used for limited University activities, the upgrade would not address the fact that the theatre is no longer fit for purpose.

"I will therefore be recommending to the 7 November meeting of the Capital Expenditure Committee of the University Council that the Maidment be closed permanently and eventually demolished as part of a proposed redevelopment of the 300 North sector to provide improved support for student-related activities."

If the closure is approved, the university would build a new performing arts facility, McCutcheon said, to meet teaching, research and service requirements,

"My aim would be to create a facility that meets the needs of the University across as wide a range as possible of the relevant disciplines (e.g. theatre, music, and dance) as well as University public events.

A sign at the University of Auckland's Maidment Theatre, on Alfred St, when it was closed indefinitely after being deemed an earthquake risk. Photo / Greg Bowker
A sign at the University of Auckland's Maidment Theatre, on Alfred St, when it was closed indefinitely after being deemed an earthquake risk. Photo / Greg Bowker

"To this end, I will appoint a working party of experts drawn from across the University to consider what those various needs are and whether/how they might be provided through a single Performing Arts Centre."

The Maidment Theatre opened in 1976, and McCutcheon said it had "played a crucial role in the development of Auckland's vibrant theatre scene".

A university spokeswoman confirmed to the Herald the contents of the vice-chancellor's newsletter. However, she said no further details could be discussed until after a decision has been made on theatre's future.

"The Maidment Theatre has been closed since December 2015 due to safety concerns arising from preliminary evaluations of its seismic strength," she said.

"In his email this morning, the vice-chancellor has signalled to staff that the university's Capital Expenditure Committee will be discussing the Maidment Theatre at its next meeting.

"We can discuss further and provide more information after the CEC's meeting."

Those in Auckland's theatre community have been quick to react to the news, with many saying it will be a loss to the arts scene.

Critic and director James Wenley said on Twitter the loss of a 100-seater theatre "both for professional and student groups, really is gutting".

However, he said the promise of a new venue was "a carrot", and those in the arts community should "hold them [the university] to it".

It was "rubbish" that the theatre was no longer fit for purpose, he said, adding: "It's been more than fit for purpose the arts since 1976, but not the university."

Rita Stone, of the Auckland Shakespeare Company, said of the news: "Very sad times. Can't believe this."

Kristina Hard, of South Pacific Pictures, said it was "terrible news".

Arts commentator Hamish Keith tweeted: "What is the Auckland disease that drives it to attack and destroy theatres - relentless, endless."

Student Rachel said on Twitter: "So many friendships, amazing memories and moments of absolute wonder at the @MaidmentTheatre. Such a shame to have to say goodbye."

Natalie Braid said the closure was "a loss for students and the wider arts community", while Frances Moore said it was "extremely short sighted" of the university to close it.

Andrew Parker said the loss of the Maidment was "careless vandalism on the part of Auckland Uni".

Expat Mark S Pumpkins, an Assistant Professor of Television Studies at Universiteit van Amsterdam, tweeted: "I did much of my stage work at the @MaidmentTheatre. The memories are vivid, and have fully shaped who I am. Going to go have a cry now."

The theatre was named after Dr Kenneth Maidment, who was the university's first vice-chancellor.