Archives for posts with tag: library

One of the government’s main anchor projects, is increasingly looking like a farce. The Press reports that there is now a grand total of one company bidding to build the convention centre:

Five groups, out of 23 initial responses, were asked to submit proposals for the $284 million precinct – one of the Government’s key blueprint anchor projects – to the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) … The Press understands (Australia-based infrastructure business Plenary Group) Plenary is the only bidder left.

The CCDU have repeatedly stressed the importance of a convention centre. The tourism industry has described it as “pivotal”. The shortlist of five was drawn up in late 2012, and reported on in early 2013. That is well over a year ago – which seems like a pretty long time to be on a “shortlist”. In June of last year, Alan Trotter said he expected an announcement on the convention centre “soon“. The CCDU aimed to have the first sod turned on the site in 2013. After that deadline whizzed by, the viability of project is increasingly being questioned. If they read reports from the US, they might question whether they should be building convention centres at all.

The big problem around the convention centre – and this is one of the main criticisms of the Blueprint plan as a whole – is that it is intricately linked to a number of other projects. The money-spinning part of the convention centre was to be the associated hotels. However, these became a less viable proposition when the council refused to bowl the Town Hall in favour of the “performing arts precinct”. With a smaller arts precinct, and potentially a smaller convention centre, there is likely to be less demand for hotel rooms. The developer of the hotels were going to be offered an advantage, by being permitted to build without the 7-storey height limit. Christchurch’s richest man, Philip Carter, expressed an interest in being said developer. It’s also worth remembering that the mega-convention centre is the reason why the central library is to be demolished and built somewhere else, for almost 10 times the cost of simply repairing it.

Which brings me to my main point: I have a suggestion for Minister Brownlee. It’s a solution that can save money, save a building, save time, and save face. What we should be doing is converting the old Government Life building into a convention centre.

IMG_1890The Government Life building isn’t many people’s favourite building. I kind of have a soft spot for it, and as the new City Council building has shown, mid-century modernist buildings can be successfully re-purposed. Before the quake it was in a state of disuse, home to pigeons and artist studios for Tony De Lautour and Mike Hewson, amongst others. Hewson did this fantastic work on the back-side of the building:

Hewson Government Life

What do we need in a convention centre? The old one on Kilmore St wasn’t much more than a two-storey tilt-slab barn, with adjustable partitions on the ground floor and some small rooms on the first floor. It cost $15 million to build in 1997. I’m no big-city architect, but surely it would be possible to fit out the Government Life building so that it can host a couple of thousand people, house some smaller rooms and maybe the offices for VBase (the company who runs conferences for the Council.) It may not be the most glamourous building, but it does have the best location in town. And on top of that, the guy who owns it – Philip Carter – happens to be one of the people the government wants to build hotels. This would save not one, but two buildings, as it would spare the old Central Library from the wreckers ball. It would save time, and would prevent a building-sized load of waste going to the landfill.

 

 

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The Press reports that one of the Government’s key anchor projects, the convention centre, may be downsized:

The Government’s key anchor project – a Christchurch convention centre – could be downsized after “market sounding” suggested a 2000-seat venue was too ambitious.

This is promising news, as it shows that the government’s planned centre is too big for a city this size. It would also have a flow-on effect, if it results in a smaller convention centre being built. The current Blueprint calls for a new library, on a site a block away from the existing library.

As I’ve written about previously, the existing library could be repaired for a fraction of what building a new one would cost. The main reason for building the new library is that the land will be required for the convention centre – however, if a smaller centre was to be built, it could be designed to accommodate the repaired library. This would save the council tens of millions of dollars. With the state that the CCC’s books are currently in, I think that is an option that should be seriously considered.

A couple of odds and ends from the Press today. Firstly, Johnny Moore’s column, in response to his column last week asking why we’re so apathetic. There are a number of reasons for this, but one that struck me is that the sprawl of the city works quite well in countering the concentration of people that you need for a vibrant protest. This was a problem before the quakes, but in the few occasions where we could put a critical mass of people into a smallish area, that was often enough to start attracting more people. That said, 10’s of thousands of people poured into Hagley Park to see Christmas in the Park, so I guess it still happens if it’s the right cause.

Secondly, the cost-sharing agreement between the council and the government seems to be under a bit of strain. While on the one hand, it could result in the CCC being forced into selling off assets to pay for things (which I think would be bad) it could also lead to the council questioning some of the projects that the previous council prioritized, such as the stadium, convention centre and building a new library, rather than repairing the old one (which I think would be good.) It certainly seems like this issue is in a state of flux at the moment.

A good discussion about the central library rebuild and the future of books from yesterday’s Press.

Cera calls the central library a “community hub of knowledge, research and heritage”; Robertson a “non-commercial neutral place”. This is the library as the anti-shopping mall.

Compare this statement from Christchurch Libraries and Information Manager Carolyn Robertson, with the idea from councillor Gough that we should open the new library up to sponsorship. These are completely ideologically opposed ideas. Lets hope this is one where money doesn’t win.

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.

It didn’t take long, but it looks like expectations for the new central city library project should be downgraded somewhat. Apparently, there isn’t enough money to rebuild the library with the same floor space, and to make it anything other than a tilt-slab barn. So we can either have a smaller, better-designed facility, or a larger, barn-like one – which would totally defeat the idea of having a library as the centre piece of the new city.

Or, we can listen to the ideas of our rich, neo-liberal councillors, who would introduce sponsorship into our public library system:

Cr Jamie Gough suggested staff should look at opportunities to subsidise the project by capitalising on its location. There were billions of dollars being invested in the central city and ample opportunity for commercial partnerships. “There is so much opportunity – it’s the finest address in town,” Gough said. Deputy mayor Ngaire Button agreed, saying she believed it was worthwhile looking for partners and other funding options.

I realise this is a library, rather than a school, but this reminds me of the apocalyptic vision of future schools in the Simpsons, in which children answering questions get partial credit for “Pepsi”. These quakes were a disaster, no one asked for them. John Key said no one in Christchurch would be worse off as a result of them, so why are our schools being closed, and our libraries being opened up to corporate sponsorship?