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Unanimous backing for $100m spend on Wellington Town Hall

Wellington city councillors have voted unanimously to commit more than $100 million to fixing the city’s town hall.

Wellington mayor Justin Lester in the town hall. Photo: RNZ / Laura Dooney

After going through a tender process the cost of earthquake strengthening and refurbishing the hall is now expected to be at least $112m. That’s almost triple the initial cost budgeted to fix the Town Hall in 2013, of $43m, and has prompted at least one local developer to call the cost ‘preposterous’.

When he revealed the new price last week, the council’s chief executive Kevin Lavery said the final costwould be more.

The council had a contingency fund to help absorb extra costs, but the amount of money in that fund would be kept quiet. Council documents show a 2017 proposal put the contingency at $23m.

It was expected the Town Hall would take four years to fix.

Wellington Town Hall. Photo: RNZ

Mayor Justin Lester said he had talked to people in the cultural community and across the city who said they loved the building, and wanted its future to be secure. He said using base isolators would give the building another 100 years of seismic resilience.

When it came to the price, Mr Lester said it was impossible to replicate the Town Hall for the amount it would cost to strengthen it.

While the vote was unanimous, some councillors expressed concern around the cost of the project, with councillor Brian Dawson saying it was a “dead rat that we do have to swallow”.

He said demolishing the building would see the council face court battles for 20 years, and doing the upgrade anyway but at a much higher cost. “We are in a difficult position …there is really no real fundamentally good choice.”

Inside the Wellington Town Hall. Photo: RNZ / Laura Dooney

Councillor Simon March said while it was possible to build something better in its place, knocking the hall down would lead to a whole lot of problems. He, like Mr Dawson, referenced the fall-out that could occur if the council decided to knock the building down.

At the beginning of the council meeting developer Richard Burrell told the council it needed to fix the price and delivery date on the Town Hall.

Mr Burrell said there was no risk for the contractor, as the city would always pay. He said Naylor Love would provide the city with a fixed price, if it asked for it.

He said the council should tell the public how much it had spent on the Town Hall so far over the last nine years.