Auckland Council running up a big repair bill for rundown and unsafe buildings

Cash-strapped Auckland Council is facing a big repair bill for a number of key buildings, including the central city library, Auckland Art Gallery and West Wave pool in Henderson.

The Leys Institute library has been closed for more than a year with no firm plans to repair the historic Ponsonby landmark and the Aotea Centre is still undergoing a major refurbishment that has gone over budget.

The repair bill comes when the city’s finances have taken a $1 billion hit from the Covid-19 pandemic – $450 million in this year’s “emergency budget” and a projected $540m in the first three years of the new 10-year budget.

Mayor Phil Goff is making no promises about extra spending in the 10-year budget to repair buildings, saying in every budget demand for services exceeds the funding available, and more so with the hit from Covid-19.

Budget documents predict the council will have an $800m shortfall over the next 10 years to maintain and renew a vast network of buildings and community facilities.

Many facilities are getting to the point where they cannot meet health and safety requirements and may have to close or be sold. Others, like the Takanini library and community hub, may be leased.

This year’s Covid-driven “emergency budget” is already having an impact on community services with the closure of the Birkenhead and Glenfield service centres.

Early this month, a smell from products used on a new roof for the central city library saw the popular facility close for more than two weeks. This followed an assessment last year that showed the bitumen roofing needed replacing as well as balcony surfaces, wall claddings and joinery. The repairs are budgeted to cost $8.85m.

A council report last December said the valued but ageing library requires $42.5m spent on it over the next 20 years to maintain current levels of services. This figure included the roof repair costs.

Less likely to be funded any time soon is the Leys Institute library and gym in Ponsonby, which closed for safety reasons suddenly just before Christmas in 2019. This followed an engineering report that found widening cracks and a bowing on a 1939 extension, posing a serious risk to staff and the public in an earthquake.

The Waitemata Local Board is pushing for full restoration of the 115-year old building with the backing of a community group, Friends of Leys Institute, but the indicative $15m to $21m repair bill is subject to scarce funds in the 10-year-budget.

A new library space has been leased nearby.

“I hope, as is currently proposed in the draft long-term plan, that council will decide to restore it for public use,” board chairman Richard Northey said.

More pressing is $10m to $12m for urgent repairs to the 1887 French renaissance-style building at Auckland Art Gallery to prevent slate tiles on the steep pitched roof falling on pedestrians and leaks to precious art works.

The council-controlled organisation (CCO) that oversees the gallery says progressive deterioration has reached the point where the category 1 heritage building needs “comprehensive attention”.

Arts patron Dame Jenny Gibb, who has a long association with the gallery and sits on its advisory committee, said the gallery has been under-funded for repairs and maintenance for years.

She was not surprised at a statement from the CCO Auckland Unlimited that the roof slates were due to be renewed during a $121m upgrade and expansion of the gallery between 2008 and 2011, but that part of the project was deferred.

“A leak in a private house is one thing. A leak in a gallery with valuable works of art is a whole different matter,” she said.

Another building causing issues is the popular West Wave pool in Henderson. During this month’s school holidays, the main pool and dive pool were closed due to an electrical failure of the pumps which control the pH (acidity) level of the water in the pools.

The $10,000 cost of the repairs is not a biggie, but indicative of wear and tear at the popular pool and leisure centre, which has a renewals budget of $2.1m this year.

Nearing completion is a $67m refurbishment of the Aotea Centre, the flagship venue for the city’s performing arts that opened in 1989 at a cost of $128.5m.

Following $16m worth of upgrades to the convention centre facilities and a new facade and steps in 2004 and 2009, a new roof to replace the bitumen roof was estimated to cost $10m in 2012.

A bigger refurbishment was subsequently costed at $52.8m, but London’s Grenfell fire tragedy changed the fire compliance requirements and added $14m to the bill. The wrap and scaffold was removed last December to reveal the new dark stainless steel-clad roof. The project is due for completion this year.

Auckland Unlimited bosses recently attended a workshop behind closed doors of the finance committee to request more money to maintain the city’s cultural assets.

In a statement the CCO said it was in discussions with the committee to ensure sufficient capital funding for its assets while balancing the reality of the economic environment.

“Our focus is to ensure Auckland’s landmark venues are well-maintained and remain accessible for all Aucklanders to enjoy. We respect the confidentiality of the finance committee workshop and are not able to provide details on funds requested at this stage,” the statement said.

Goff said the funding requested by Auckland Unlimited has to be considered alongside the need for more investment in areas like transport, housing and the environment, saying decisions will be made in May before the final budget is adopted in June.

Kim O’Neill, head of property and commercial business for the council, said the 21 Local Boards are responsible for community facilities.

“Council contractors carry out routine maintenance and small scale repairs as part of their contract obligations. Local Boards receive a budget allocation each year that they use to invest in more significant renewal work that is not covered in the maintenance contract,” she said.

O’Neill said the boards receive funding through the 10-year budget for renewals and prioritise the works. Where the cost for renewals is significant, such as the new roof for the central library, the budget is adjusted to meet the cost.

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