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ANALYSIS: Community questions answered on library and civic centre

ANALYSIS: Community questions answered on library and civic centre

Progress updates for Ashburton’s new library and civic centre, Te Whare Whakatere, receive plenty of feedback and raise some questions from the community, so LDR reporter Jonathan Leask analysed the answers.

"What is happening with the budget?"

It won’t come in on the original budget, but it won’t cost ratepayers any more than originally planned.

The Ashburton District Council revealed in April that the project was forecast to go over budget by up to 10%, around $5.6 million, over the $56.75m budget.

The council originally signed off on a $51.6m budget in May 2019, money that was to be covered by capital expenditure loans and paid off by ratepayers over time.

Then in early 2021, it opted to up that budget to $56.75m – adding a $5m contingency in the face of the developing Covid pandemic and a forecast of it impacting the project that was originally scheduled for completion in October 2022.

The council was also successful in securing a $20m grant from the Government’s shovel-ready project fund.

Technically, that provides the project with an additional $20m contingency the ratepayers do not have to cover and will effectively offset the increased project costs on top of the original financial input from ratepayers.

In short, ratepayers won’t have to pay any more than was originally planned unless the budget blows out by more than $20m.

“Why build it at all, we don’t need it?”

Some in the community view the project as a waste of money and have called it a vanity project.

That would suggest they are happier with the current library which is damp, earthquake prone and not all safe for use. There would be significant cost to bring up to standard and modernise it on its current footprint.

And while termed a library, the building will house more than just books, as it includes a sound studio, performance space, a variety of meeting areas and other offerings.

Then there are the existing council buildings – which for those who have been inside know it resembles what an abandoned cold war Soviet Union hospital looks like in the movies.

The building is well past its use-by date and would require significant investment to update, enlarge, and bring to code.

Building the library and civic centre together was seen as a cost saving investment.

New libraries in Christchurch and Rolleston came with similar criticisms before opening but are now largely appreciated and well used.

“It’s the council just doing what they want.”

If so, they took their time about it - asking the community for input for years before foundations were laid.

That included the decision to build both buildings as well as finalising location and then designs.

In fact, through consultation, the community actually called for the bigger, shinier version of the building that is now being built.

Initially the council presented the community with four options and were leaning towards a cheaper option, only for the community, through the consultation process, to request the more expensive option that would future-proof the building.

The essence of the feedback was to 'build it right and build it once' rather than saving money now only to spend more for the required upgrades in future.

Underpinning the attitude were the bad experiences with the Ashburton art gallery and sports stadium where poor planning saw both projects require expensive remediation after completion. The art gallery still needs work done nearly 10 years on.

"What’s the hold up?"

It had been scheduled to open in October last year, but the delays are the flow-on effects of the Covid-disrupted supply chain and workforce issues.

A definite completion date is still to be announced, but council say it remains on track to be open by the end of this year.

It is also a complex and bespoke design with a big floor area over three storeys — the result of the community opting for the deluxe version.

As well as the library area, meeting rooms, council’s open-plan offices, council chambers, and other facilities, it will also house the Civil Defence Emergency Centre – and that is why it had to be built to such an earthquake-resilient scale.

“What do the names mean?"

There has been plenty of negative feedback about the name of the building.

It is one build in two parts — a library and a civic centre — which was why Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua originally gifted two names.

Upon inspection of the building, Arowhenua ūpoko, Te Wera King, decided the previously gifted names didn’t fit.

The whole complex is now named Te Whare Whakatere which literally translates as the House of Ashburton, a nod to it being a community facility and home of the council.

King said the pronunciation can be Whakatere or Hakatere.

The council chamber will be called Hine Paaka, and the library space as Te Kete Tuhinga, meaning a basket of script.

The rationale for public sector buildings receiving te reo names is recognition of Te Tiriti and representing the partnership with Māori.

There is a school of thought that the names give the buildings an individual character rather than just being called a ‘[enter town name here] library’ – as these modernised facilities are much more than libraries.

But it’s still the Ashburton Library and the Ashburton District Council. If people can’t, or don't want to, pronounce the te reo names, they can call it that.

And the council has confirmed the building will feature bilingual signs.

“The money would be better spent on the second bridge.”

This is apples and oranges territory.

The library and civic centre is a council-driven and funded project — albeit aided by a Government injection from the shovel-ready fund.

As the second bridge involves roading it extends beyond council control and needs Waka Kotahi collaboration and funding.

Add into the mix that ratepayer dollars don't just go into one big pot.

For example - If the council rates a property for open spaces, for example, that money is spent on open spaces. If it rates for roading it goes on roading.

In this sense, money rated to pay for the new library and civic centre couldn’t be diverted to pay for the second bridge – and nor could money for the bridge be diverted to buildings.

As it stands there is money, via loans and the Government grant, for the library and civic centre, but no money exists for the bridge.

Arguably the council could go ahead and build the bridge out of its own pocket – but the rates hit could equate to about 3.7% increase over 30 years.

To mitigate that, the council wants a larger contribution confirmed from the Government before the bridge can go ahead.