The amount of $28 million is a pretty big number in anyone's book.

And it is a number that has caused some alarm among sections of the Wanganui community.

That's the cost of both extending and earthquake-proofing the Sarjeant Gallery, and it has prompted comments along the lines of: "How can we spend so much on an art gallery when the council can't afford to fix ..." Fill in your own ending to that sentence.

At a public meeting in the Wanganui East club last month it was "... when we can't afford to fix the Wakefield Street rail bridge?" - a concern raised several times at that particular forum.


Despite assurances from mayor Annette Main that the extension would be paid for by external money, and not Wanganui's beleaguered ratepayers, doubts remain.

So it is time to address those doubts head-on.

Such is the prestige and importance of the Sarjeant's art collection that the Government is prepared - nay, the Government is keen - to throw $10 million into the pot. A corporate fundraising effort will soon be under way (see our story on page 3 today) and other applications for funding are in the pipeline.

Yes, the council has spent some rates money on the relocation of the gallery to Taupo Quay and on design plans for the extension. It may spend a couple of million to net $20-plus million, but this isn't a speculative gamble like buying a Lotto ticket.

Without the gallery extension, there will be no outside money and we ratepayers will face a stark choice - stump up $5 million or more for earthquake strengthening or close the Sarjeant down for good. Neither is palatable.

That is why the $28 million extension and earthquake upgrade is the only way to go.

And what a prize is within Wanganui's grasp. A $28 million asset bang in the middle of our city; the jobs and economic spin-offs from the construction work; the profile of an iconic gallery raised even higher on the national and international stage; the vastly-enhanced education facilities; the opportunity to attract major events and exhibitions; the ongoing revenue stream from visitors - art lovers and others - coming to see what we have to offer. The economic argument makes itself. But it is not just about dollars and cents ...

Most people recognise we have something special in that beautiful historic building perched so neatly on the hill. It is a source of civic pride even for those who regard art galleries as an alien world created to amuse an elite.


So here is a chance to boost that civic pride, to turn something special into something magnificent, to put Wanganui on the map.

The community should get behind this project.