On Monday, it was announced that we were to be getting a new library. I like libraries. People like me like libraries. So while we might criticise stadiums, convention centres etc, we tend to be a bit more accepting of libraries. Books, good. Learning, good. But something about the whole thing didn’t seem right to me, so I dug into the numbers a bit.

First, it’s meant to cost $89 million. Of that, the council can only cover $60m, with the rest, rather hopefully, to come from charity and philanthropic donations. As I wrote this morning (Pepsi? Partial credit), some councillors would like to see the library opened up for sponsorship. The budget for the building means we can have a small, well designed building, or a bigger, tilt-slab thing. Not both. Not ideal. This is certainly not the “library as the inspirational heart of the new city” that has been championed.

That does not square with the council’s vision of building an “uplifting” world-class library that is architecturally striking. The quantity surveyors say that if the council wants a building like that, its $85 million budget will only buy it 7200sq m of floor space. “If the council wants a top-notch, world-class, super-duper building it does not have the money to do it,” council major facilities rebuild manager Mike Hannaway warned yesterday.

Before the Blueprint, the Council was preparing to repair and re-open the library. They have budgeted for this, and the figures are in the 2012 annual plan (pdf here, page 19 for the relevant costings). The cost of repairing the library is $8.7 million – and $8.2m of that was to come from insurance, leaving the Council to pick up just $500,000 of extra cost. Under the Blueprint proposal, the library will be moved from the current Gloucester St site, about a block back towards the Square. Is it a better place? Probably – although having a library over looking the Avon wouldn’t be half bad either. The government has budgeted up to $19m to buy the new land for the library – more than TWICE the cost of repairing the library. That’s just to buy the land. The whole project is 10 times more expensive that repairing the current site.

So why are the government so keen on moving and rebuilding? It’s because the current site is where they want to put their giant, uncosted, unneeded Convention Centre. I can see a situation where they bowl the library, build their Convention Centre, and then to help with the “sponsorship” of the new library, SkyCity ends up sponsoring the new library. Seriously, would you put it past this government?

Look, I’d love to have a new library. But is it worth ten times what repairing the current one would cost? Especially when the council’s projected debt track is meant to balloon out to 247% of borrowing over the next 20 years or so, I’d argue that we need to take the less glamorous option and repair the current one. And tell the convention centre to get stuffed at the same time.

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