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Blueprint to bookshelves – Ashburton’s library triumph

Blueprint to bookshelves – Ashburton’s library triumph
The finishing touches to Te Whare Whakatere, Ashburton’s new library and civic centre are ongoing as the library is set to open on Monday. PHOTO JONATHAN LEASK.

The Ashburton District will finally have a new library and civic centre, which opens on Monday. Jonathan Leask looks back at the project’s 20-year journey.

Project inception: 2004

Issues with the old council administration building were first signalled in 2004, with the building reshaped internally to accommodate growing staff numbers and changing community needs.

Making do: 2011 - 2015

An elderly villa on a neighbouring section was once utilised as extra council office space, but after several cold and leaky winters time was called on it and the third-floor council chamber in the main civic building was turned into extra office space.

A new council chamber had to be found and the old county building in Baring Square East, vacant since the art gallery and museum moved to West Street, was brought back into use.

Combined effort: 2015

As part of the long-term plan 2015-25 process, the council consulted on a proposed new civic office premises deferred from previous years. With earthquake damage to the Ashburton Library building, the proposed option was to consider combining the two facilities at a cost of approximately $16m. The community feedback was in support for the council to develop these plans.

Project progress: September 2015

A project team was established. They looked at seven site options, a building that would cost around $16 million and a completion date in 2018.

Pause: October 2016

The site selection process ground to a halt after the 2016 local body election when the new team of councillors wanted to revisit the project and sites available. They also wanted the option of a standalone library on Ashburton College land investigated.

Site locked in: June 2017

Council signed off on a build of the library and civic centre in Baring Square East. It would take until mid-2018 for a deal to be done with the Methodist Church to secure some of its land, and an adjoining commercial property was also purchased.

Inadequate budget: 2018

The 2018-28 long-term plan had $22m budgeted for the new Library and Civic Centre building, but during public consultation on the project it became apparent it would not be adequate to provide a building that met the needs of the current community and future generations.

Concepts considered: March 2019

Concept plans went out for public consultation presenting four choices, ranging from $39 million to $53 million, with the council’s preference the $45m option - the second-most expensive option.

Public say: April 2019

Of the 169 submissions received, 78 (46%) supported the $53m option, wanting the council to build it once and build it right to future proof the facility.

Plan in place: May 2019

Councillors opted for a hybrid version of the $53 and $45m options – landing at $51.6m.

Out with the old: July 2019

For decades the old County Council building had been a landmark on the corner of Baring Square east and Havelock Street. The demolition of the building and the Methodist Church hall began to make way for the new library and civic centre.

Concepts: August 2019

The council approved concept designs, which included progressing with environmentally sustainable features, such as an artesian well and chilled beam cooling/heating system, and using timber as a key structural element, and incorporating Pioneer Hall into the build.

Shovel ready: July 2020

The project received a $20 million boost after a successful application to the Government’s shovel ready Covid-19 response and recovery fund.

Design decision: August 2020

The detailed design was approved for the $51.6m project.

Contingency: January 2021

The council opted to up the budget by $5m to $56.75m to include a larger contingency fund in the face of Covid impacts on the construction industry.

Underway: February 2021

Construction commenced.

Names: October 2021

Arowhenua gifted names to the facility, Te Pātaka o kā Tuhituhi for the library and Te Waharoa a Hine Paaka for the civic centre.

Delay: January 2022

In the face of supply chain issues, it was announced the project’s completion date was being pushed back until the second quarter of 2023.

Under pressure: May 2022

Council chief executive Hamish Riach said Covid restrictions and supply chain issues were “impacting pressure on costs and the forecast completion date, which is now expected to be in the first half of 2023”.

Push back: February 2023

Riach said the building remained on schedule to be completed in 2023, with the opening now planned for the fourth quarter.

Budget blowout: April 2023

Council announced a forecast an up to10% ($5m) budget overrun. The following week it was announced that sub-contractor, Benmax NZ, was going into liquidation.

Demolition: July 2023

In approving the parking restrictions around the facility, it was revealed that Cavendish Chambers building at 255 Havelock Street would be demolished and turned into a parking area.

New name: August 2023

After a tour of the under-construction facility, Te Runanga o Arowhenua Ūpoko, Te Wera King, decided the previously gifted names didn’t fit. He gifted a new name, Te Whare Whakatere (The House of Ashburton) for the whole facility. The library will be known as Te Kete Tuhinga, which means a basket of script. The council chamber will be called Hine Paaka, an ancient matai (beech) tree that once stood at Alford Forest.

Opening announced: October 2023

The council announced the building would officially open for business on December 18 but construction delays then pushed it into 2024.

Air con: December 2023

Issues with the air conditioning on the top floor resulted in the council staff’s move being delayed into January.

Opening day: January 2024

The Ashburton Library opens its doors on January 22 after completing a three week shift from the old site it had called home since 1966. Council staff are set to start working from the building from January 29.