ANALYSIS:

Wellington City Council has come up with a new process for making a decision on the closed central library after councillors raised concerns it wasn't being treated with enough urgency.

As the to-ing and fro-ing continues, the Ian Athfield designed library remains shut.

Hundreds of lonely books have sat for months in a building deemed risky following the partial collapse of Statistics House in the Kaikoura earthquake.

Advertisement

This afternoon new draft documents have been made public outlining further details about options to strengthen the building and cost comparisons of rebuilding it from scratch.

They are no different from options already made public in May, but the decision making process has changed.

Subscribe to Premium

The original paper outlining options for the library ended up being pulled from a city council meeting agenda at the last minute.

This was despite Mayor Andy Foster and his colleagues holding a media briefing to rally around the paper just a few days before.

It's understood the document was pulled after councillors raised concerns that work to remediate the building was not being treated with enough urgency.

That's because it was suggested key decisions would be left until the Long Term Plan came up for review again next year.

The library has been closed since March 2019.

More than a year later, hundreds of books remain inside the closed building. Photo / Georgina Campbell.
More than a year later, hundreds of books remain inside the closed building. Photo / Georgina Campbell.

To expedite the process, council officers have come up with an option of using what is called a Statement of Proposal (SOP) under the Local Government Act.

Advertisement

It will speed up the decision-making process by six to nine months and is considered the quickest option available to council.

Consultation required under the Long Term Plan will be brought forward so decisions can be made earlier.

Meanwhile, funding was also allocated in the 2020-2021 Annual Plan to start the detailed engineering and architectural design process earlier.

Three options are on the table to strengthen the building to varying levels of the New Building Standard (NBS).

The new documents now cost these options using a scale, after engineers criticised the council for being overly conservative with contingencies resulting in potentially inflated cost estimates.

The most expensive repair option, and therefore the most resilient, would cost between $174.4 million and $199.8 million and bring the building to 100 per cent NBS.

This is the preferred option recommended by council officers, but the proof will be in the pudding when the documents are tabled before councillors next week.

Advertisement
Mayor Andy Foster and his councillors will be asked to approve the Statement of Proposal at a full Council meeting on Tuesday. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Mayor Andy Foster and his councillors will be asked to approve the Statement of Proposal at a full Council meeting on Tuesday. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

An indicative opening date for strengthening the building with base isolators is as far away as May 2025.

That's compared to the low level remediation option's opening date of November 2023.

Strengthening the building to 40 per cent NBS would cost between $76.3 million and $90.8 million.

The cost estimates include the replacement of building services and the building's fit-out.

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

Wellington City Council isn't exactly flush with cash between Covid-19, the city's crumbling water pipes, and the massive Let's Get Wellington Moving project.

Aerial view of Te Ngākau Civic Precinct. Image / WCC.
Aerial view of Te Ngākau Civic Precinct. Image / WCC.

The legislation being used to fast track a decision on the library requires the identification and assessment of all reasonably practicable options to achieve the council's objective.

It means the council will also engage with the "developer community" to find out what the sector thinks and how they might be able to contribute.

Advertisement

The idea has been mooted in the past that a developer could purchase the library building off the council, rebuild it, and then lease it back to the council for library services.

But libraries portfolio leader Fleur Fitzsimons has firmly put the kibosh on that saying involving developers in some kind of partnership would effectively be privatising the library.

Options like relocating the library to the city's new Convention Centre have already been turfed out because they were assessed as not practicable.

The Convention Centre project was considered too far down the track with contracts in place and construction already under way.

Options for the closed central library include spending $200m to strengthen it or knocking it down and starting again. Photo / Georgina Campbell.
Options for the closed central library include spending $200m to strengthen it or knocking it down and starting again. Photo / Georgina Campbell.

The full costs would also move to impact residential ratepayers as they are currently mostly covered by commercial ratepayers.

Wellington City Council has already pitched the library to the Government as a shovel-ready project and is hoping to secure some money to ease the cost burden.

Advertisement

Without that help, the increase for the average residential ratepayer would be up to $86.20 per annum for the most expensive strengthening option.

Foster and his councillors will be asked to approve the Statement of Proposal at a full council meeting on Tuesday so the public consultation and engagement process can begin on July 27.

Fronting media today, Foster said he thought all Wellingtonians would like the process to happen faster than it was.

"Clearly the central library is a much-loved building and a much-loved service and we miss it very much.

"But whichever option is chosen, there is a significant amount of money involved."

Foster said Covid-19 has prevented a report remediation on options going to council in the first week of April this year.

Advertisement

But he appeared confident things were back on track.

The council has since swiftly opened three library branches housing more than 60,000 items from the Central Library collection, including fiction, non-fiction, popular children's titles, language resources and AV items.

Building resilience portfolio leader Iona Pannett joked at the press conference she had never seen something done so quickly in Local Government.

A storage facility for Wellington Central Library's collection of 370,000 items has also been secured in Johnsonville.

But smaller localised branches won't cut the mustard long-term, not with the scale of Wellington's predicted population growth and the key role the library has in bringing people into the city.