Town Hall seismic upgrade – fiscal warning

All Wellingtonians should take a close interest in the proposal to upgrade the old Town Hall to 100% NBS, because this is going to be seriously expensive, and will increase rates.  At present the Council does not know what it will cost and most likely won’t until the project nears completion, assuming it goes ahead.

The comprehensive report is on the WCC website.   It makes for scary reading.  There are so many unknowns, which are identified but cannot be quantified.   The experience of Fletcher Building and others in recent times has made contractors very cautious about pricing.

The Wellington Town Hall could well be the riskiest major project in New Zealand.

If all goes well we will end up with a Town Hall that is safe and good for the Mayor and staff and the proposed Music hub.  It will cost the estimated $112 million plus no more than the secret “contingency”.   Having being involved in two rebuilds in recent years I seriously doubt “all will go well” – it would be nothing short of a miracle if it did.

The Council should not take too much comfort from the consultants views  – they will be paid for their advice and have nothing more at risk.

Apart from essentially writing a blank cheque for the seismic upgrade, the Council has two other options.   One is upgrade to a lower standard which means the building would be used by different parties.   The other is demolition, which has been rejected on the grounds it is a heritage building.  A pity that wasn’t thought of when the Michael Fowler centre was built hard up against the Town Hall, and the plan was then to demolish it.

The Town Hall upgrade is not the only civic building needing seismic work and all should be assessed at the same time.  It may well be the best long run solution is demolition of the Town Hall and possibly other adjacent buildings.

I support retaining heritage buildings wherever practicable, but not at any cost.   On the basis of the WCC paper I could easily envisage how the current price might escalate further on a massive scale.  By then many on the Council will have changed and those remaining will say we have no choice but to go on.

Before making an irrevocable decision the Council should consider a new building(s) using modern building techniques.   Far better to consider the new option before the point of no return.




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