A waste of $60 million

February 14th, 2014 at 8:58 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Work to earthquake strengthen Wellington Town Hall has been halted in the face of a $17 million budget blowout.

Investigations into the 110-year-old building’s foundations have resulted in the cost soaring from $43.7m to somewhere in the region of $60m – prompting one councillor to suggest abandoning it in favour of a new building.

The extent of additional foundation work required was unearthed after staff were moved out and the town hall closed in November for the three-year strengthening programme. Work was halted after just three months as the council tried to figure out what to do about the additional costs of up to $17m. The delay is likely to push back the completion date of the project.

It was a marginal call at $43 million and a wasteful one at $60 million. And I suspect the costs would keep escalating.

To put this into perspective, there are 68,901 households in Wellington, so the Council is forcing each ratepayer to pay $871 (and growing) to strengthen the building. That’s a huge amount of money.

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44 Responses to “A waste of $60 million”

  1. bhudson (4,741 comments) says:

    There’s half a share of an airport extension right there (based on current shareholding.)

    And far better prospects for the regional economy.

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  2. Paulus (2,712 comments) says:

    Surely at $60 million it would be cheaper to pull it down and build a new modern EQ proof building, bearing in mind that it is on harbour fill anyway.
    But Wellington has the Council it elected – so tough.

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  3. Yogibear (375 comments) says:

    Save the building. I had my first pash at a Blue Light disco there on the 80s

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  4. redqueen (597 comments) says:

    Hmm…a new building could be the terminus of the light railway that Wellington, apparently, desparate needs/needed. Why waste a good opportunity? All just OPP when socialists are in charge. Or maybe ‘OPM’ is more specific.

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  5. Rick Rowling (816 comments) says:

    Clearly Wellington needs to be a supercity, so that the council can share the waste around more ratepayers.

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  6. YesWeDid (1,056 comments) says:

    ‘To put this into perspective, there are 68,901 households in Wellington, so the Council is forcing each ratepayer to pay $871 (and growing) to strengthen the building.’

    Do only households pay rates in Wellington? What about commercial properties, don’t they also pay rates? And what other revenue streams does the council have?

    And surely the replacement cost vs strengthening cost needs to be looked at. The CHCH townhall is estimated to cost $127M just to restore.

    And not paying for the strengthening may not be an option is the council may then be refused insurance or the cost of insurance may sky rocket.

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  7. flipper (4,332 comments) says:

    Well, I have to say that Yogi has come up with the very best reason yet to save the old Hall.

    If Wellington were half smart the marble stair case would be dismantled, stored and re-used in a new town hall. Similarly, parts of the façade could (well, may be) incorporated in a new building.
    \
    The short answer is the heritage listing is a load of cods. The old hall is XYZ useless compared to what could be out there.

    But the greens and the half wit Mayor want to waste $60 million – and to pay $18.50 per hour as a Charlie Waldegrave wage.

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  8. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    That’s surprisingly concise, informative and fact-based, for a Stuff article.

    I wonder how they decided they had to achieve 140% NBS? Any private owner has to strengthen to a minimum of 34%NBS, although they push you to go to at least 67% which is what the Earthquake Engineering Society recommends.

    And (just to be grammatically correct)…
    base isolators don’t in and of themselves strengthen a building, what they do is soften the ground accelerations that the building experiences in an earthquake, allowing a weaker building to suffice, compared to what strength you need in a building rigidly connected to the ground in the conventional manner.

    Cr Simon Marsh is right IMHO (and I say that as someone who is generally in favour of preserving nice old things wherever possible.) It’s a nice old building, but at that price it’s starting to look like a folly…

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  9. rouppe (984 comments) says:

    How is it that the Huddart Parker Building – constructed of similar materials at a similar time (1925 vs the Town Hall’s 1904) – can be satisfactorily strengthened for $8 million, but the town hall takes $43 million – now $60 million?

    Someone thinks the public purse is bottomless. Pull your heads in council, strengthen it as necessary, similar to Huddart Parker, but don’t try and make it impregnable.

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  10. Max S (23 comments) says:

    Shows how sensible the Hutt City Council were to demolish their Town and Horticultural Halls and build a new Hall.

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  11. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    Flatten the building, rebuild with a single storey structure, cut the staff levels accordingly, re-employ those that can provide a realistic job description, with relevant qualifications, and pay them accordingly. There is no need for this monstrous domain of PSA-indoctrinated drones, screwing the ratepayers for every little thing possible, and providing nothing but bureaucratic bungling and envy, when one applies for consents, or something they deem to be commercial.

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  12. WineOh (636 comments) says:

    To be fair, given the incompetence of this council the costs of a new build would also blow-out by +50-100%. Has there ever been a significant WCC project that has been completed ontime and within budget?

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  13. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    Rouppe – Apples and oranges don’t cost the same.

    If you had a 1971 Rolls Royce and a 1971 Datsun 240z, and you wanted to re-build and tune up the engines of both, strip them out, put bigger brakes and bigger wheels on them and turn them into weekend club racing cars… the Roller is probably going to cost a shitload more to achieve the same performance.

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  14. queenstfarmer (782 comments) says:

    Forget about one building, Wellington is one big earthquake away from years if not decades of near uninhabitability. If one building costs this much, how much will it cost to repair every building in town?

    Surely it’s time to bite the bullet and relocate the capital. Not all at once, but just start progressively moving functions to another centre that it less likely to be destroyed by inevitable natural forces.

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  15. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    How much would demolishing the current town hall and replacing it with something else cost?

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  16. Simon (785 comments) says:

    How about a big circus tent for Wellington’s town hall.

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  17. KiwiGreg (3,279 comments) says:

    sell the property and lease some suitable office accommodation from a private party. Why complicate this?

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  18. Ed Snack (1,941 comments) says:

    RRM, I think buildings of a certain use class have to meet higher standards, and the Town Hall is in a high public use or something similar class, hence the higher % compliance required.

    I suggest a “rich prick” rate to raise the money; put a special 50% rates surcharge on all houses worth >$1M, those bastards can afford it ! Or in true Wellington style, a special rates surcharge on all households outside the Wellington region, especially Auckland, Wellington lives and prospers on other peoples money in general, so why not extend the principle just a little for this worthy project ?

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  19. iMP (2,457 comments) says:

    And here we see in stark light the issues embroiled in Chch: repairing/rebuilding the Cathderal, Basilica, Town hall, hotels, swimming pools, retail sector, churches, schools, supermarkets, infrastructure etc etc etc all at once.

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  20. Camryn (481 comments) says:

    Wellington is already filled with hideous architectural monstrosities. The nice older buildings only serve to highlight what a mish-mash the city is. Losing it won’t hurt.

    Seriously… Wellington has a great natural setting and a lot of nice looking buildings but the overall effect is half slum, half architects of every era trying to “make their mark on the capital” with a sense-assaulting visual cacophony being the end result. Bleech.

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  21. lolitasbrother (774 comments) says:

    Chicken feed. As iMP above says
    To pick up one frivolous little item
    Down here in Christchurch they want to build a stadium for sports 300 million.
    Thats about $2000 each ratepayer.
    They have other big plans left over from the effervescent days of Bob Parker.
    New Zealanders need to remember its you who pays for our rebuild down here and you have a say

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  22. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    Ed –

    True, it is probably an importance level 3 building rather than a normal level 2 (due to containing people in crowds) so that increases the design strength by a factor of 1.3 over most other buildings. But 1.3 is not 1.4…

    As it is mainly a performance venue, and the remainder of it is council office space, I would have thought it would be pretty straightforward to annualise the performance venue income + the cost of renting office space somewhere else, do some snazzy net present worth calculations, and come up with what the budget SHOULD be for strengthening work that should last for the next 50 years??

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  23. Nigel Kearney (1,100 comments) says:

    If this was someone’s house and they were paying with their own money, they would probably choose to not do the upgrade, not insure it, and just keep on living there. The ability to spend other people’s money should not change the decision.

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  24. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    Lolita – but aren’t we always hearing about what a boon Rugger is for the economy?

    Surely with all that dazzling tv revenue from rugger, rugger and more rugger, the rugger industry could just invest in a venue of their own? Without holding their hand out to the public?

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  25. thedavincimode (6,890 comments) says:

    Why not relocate it to the site of the Christchurch Cathedral? The financial waste will keep Anderton happy and Wellington gets a new town hall. Win win.

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  26. WineOh (636 comments) says:

    The council is gradually waking up to the huge compliance costs it has levied on private property owners in the city in the forever spiralling upgrade costs.

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  27. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    Take a photo of it for the archives & send the demolition crews in.

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  28. rouppe (984 comments) says:

    RRM:

    Huddart Parker has plenty of people in it every day, not as though the large part of it stands empty 11 months out of 12.

    They’re both built of the same material. They’re both roughly the same size. They both sit on the ground. I accept that the large open space in the Hall poses additional engineering problems but… Putting the Town Hall on base isolators is one hell of a luxury. Is that necessary, thinking about the cost versus return?

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  29. lolitasbrother (774 comments) says:

    I am switching back to Christchurch again, but close to topic,
    they want to spend so much money down here on buildings.
    on the other hand we have been told the roads will be dangerous into the forseeable future.
    Yes you can take your 4WD for a run and disappear into a pot hole bigger than the back roads of Thailand.
    I am a philistine who doesn’t know how many men play cricket or rugby. and I don’t go to pray
    I don’t want a Stadium. I don’t care about the Town Hall or the Cathedral, or the Basilica.
    I can not afford it and nor can you New Zealand .
    I just talked about a billion dollars, pay here New Zealand.
    Its not only that look at the insurance for your house.
    Yes I have changed my mind I will pray,
    I will pray that Wellington never has an earthquake like we did or anything like it,
    but I don’t need the dead Basilica for that

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  30. Ross12 (1,488 comments) says:

    Slightly off topic , but can someone tell me why engineering projects like this and many infrastructure projects are ALWAYS costed incorrectly at the start. I understand that there will be unforeseen issues but not enough to make 40%+++ errors.

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  31. reversespin (70 comments) says:

    Every time I read something like this about Wellington I am immediately reined that it needs a super city council. Screaming out for it, begging for it………….Can’t believe they haven’t done it already.

    Get on with it!!

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  32. Viking2 (11,686 comments) says:

    They should talk to Len. He has the formula. Harvey Norman type buy no and no payments till 2020.Perhaps the council can cinvince someone to do a deal like that for them. :lol:

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  33. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    Rouppe –

    1) You only do base isolators if it is cheaper than the alternative (which is strengthening the building to a level that you don’t need base isolators.)

    2) Base isolators are physically not suitable for every building.

    3) The law requires you to allow for more onerous forces, in buildings that house people in crowds or have special post-disaster functions.

    4) “The ground” is not the same thing in all locations – although Huddart Parker is probably pretty similar conditions to the town hall as you say.

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  34. rouppe (984 comments) says:

    1) You only do base isolators if it is cheaper than the alternative (which is strengthening the building to a level that you don’t need base isolators.

    And Huddart Parker managed that for $8 million

    And by the way the atrium at the railway station, a pretty large open space not unlike the Town Hall, is being fully strengthened for $1.9 million

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  35. Mary Rose (393 comments) says:

    >reversespin (65 comments) says: Every time I read something like this about Wellington I am immediately reined that it needs a super city council.

    Eh???
    But no thanks. Keep local decisions local, I say.

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  36. edhunter (554 comments) says:

    In 1980 the Michael Fowler Centre was built immediately in front of the Town Hall’s main entrance in anticipation of the older building’s demolition. However the New Zealand Historic Places Trust persuaded the City Council to retain the Town Hall. In 1989 plans were unveiled to create Civic Square between the town hall and the old city library. As part of this, the Town Hall underwent full refurbishment from 1991 to 1992. During this process the concert chamber was demolished and replaced with reception rooms.

    I really do wish the New Zealand Historic Places Trust would just go away.

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  37. Peter (1,695 comments) says:

    Pull the thing down. Has Christchurch taught them nothing?

    The days of faux European-style buildings in NZ should be consigned to history. It was a mistake to build them in an earthquake zone in the first place. Build some modern wonders that suit THIS environment.

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  38. wikiriwhis business (4,209 comments) says:

    Suspend a new airport venue in Wellington ?

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  39. OneTrack (3,376 comments) says:

    “Slightly off topic , but can someone tell me why engineering projects like this and many infrastructure projects are ALWAYS costed incorrectly at the start. I understand that there will be unforeseen issues but not enough to make 40%+++ errors.”

    Still even more off topic, but the same thing will apply to Len’s train set to nowhere. He wants it in, so he will be giving out the lowest possible price. Then you start building and you find all the things that were forgotten about. And, nek minnut, Auckland rate payers and NZ tax payers have to stump up with $6 billion dollars plus ongoing operational costs.

    And , after all that, five extra people will take the train. But Len will have a plaque with his name on it. High five.

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  40. johnwellingtonwells (137 comments) says:

    Re Auckland. They missed a golden opportunity with the then vacant land around the Newmarket station. They could have built a transport hub there for trains and buses, with train and bus shuttles into the CBD. Instead, they bulit little boxes made of tick tacky and they all look the same

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  41. georgebolwing (1,011 comments) says:

    While it won’t happen, one could always dream that the Wellington City Council would decide that it isn’t the centre of the universe, nor the embodiment of the city and it’s perfectly OK for the Council and its staff to be accomodated in a normal commercial building. We don’t need grand public buildings to be a proper city.

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  42. greenjacket (486 comments) says:

    Celia Wade-Brown has justified spending $60 million on the old town hall:
    “The most exciting thing about our town hall is the acoustic quality of the main auditorium, both for live performance and for recording. When I went down to see Peter Jackson and the NZSO rehearsing and recording for the desolation of Smaug, I met people from the famous Abbey Road studio. Their view was that Wellington Town Hall was one of the top three acoustic venues in the world. That’s a wonderful asset for Wellington creatively and economically.”
    .
    So she is going to spend almost $1000 per household in Wellington so there is an acoustic venue hardly anyone actually uses (for those people outside Wellington, there is already a new town hall right next door).
    And then she has the utter gall to complain about poverty.

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  43. shoreboy57 (141 comments) says:

    Blow-out – Was that the living wage? How about turning it into a Casino. SkyCity can fund it then

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  44. mavxp (483 comments) says:

    The investigations into the foundations happened *during* the works. That was a high risk decision to make – by whom? The Engineer, Project Manager or the Client (WCC?). That cannot be ascertained from the Stuff article. If you are looking to pin blame, it is ultimately the Client who pays, but they should be asking questions if they were taking advice from engineers that such investigations were not necessary before the work started. Maybe sacking them and hiring another engineer would send the right message?

    Sometimes they low-ball the estimates to get the job to proceed. Then it becomes too embarrassing for the Client to pull out when the costs skyrocket. Was that the case here? Sometimes they cut costs on initial investigations to win the preliminary assessment work in the hope it will go ahead, telling the Client that they can get away with doing less up front. The plan being to do more later if it looks necessary. Only now later was during the work itself. Oops.

    ____

    Base isolation reduces the impact of high frequency shaking (which earthquakes generate a lot of), important for older low-mid rise buildings that are susceptible to that kind of shaking. But with base isolation they become more sensitive to low frequency shaking (swaying motion). With a deep profile of soft soil, these low frequencies are amplified significantly. There is also the problem that base isolators need to be level and not suffer differential settlement in a quake for them to work effectively. If the ground beneath liquefies or softens and settles uncontrollably, the building will still suffer damage and crack – from the settlement alone if not the shaking itself.

    This is much like the Christchurch Town Hall – nice building, great acoustics, but situated on soft soils. Now to reinstate will cost lots of money to prevent more of the same in a future quake. Yet another case of spending “other peoples money” with arguably poor rationale.

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