Quake work to shake up capital’s cultural centres
Wellington’s historic St James Theatre could be closed for a year for earthquake strengthening, leaving the national ballet scrambling for a temporary home.
The closure is likely to happen towards the middle of next year, about the same time major strengthening work is expected to start on the Town Hall. The double whammy will leave the capital without two of its most significant performance venues.
The 1600-seat St James Theatre, built in Courtenay Place in 1912, was yellow-stickered in 2015.
An earlier engineering assessment estimated the theatre met just 20 to 30 per cent of new building standards.
Wellington City Council building resilience manager Steve Cody said council officers were drafting a proposal to be taken to councillors for approval.
‘‘Assuming the councillors accept the plan, work is expected to start next year and is estimated to take around 10 to 12 months.’’
The project would allow St James Theatre to meet up to 67 per cent of code requirements.
Cody said the proposal would be presented to the council in the next eight to 10 weeks.
The news comes soon after a council-commissioned report warned the commercial lure of Auckland, earthquake effects and the closure of buildings was threatening Wellington’s reputation as the ‘‘capital of culture’’.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet occupies levels 2 and 3 of the St James building and will have to relocate when works begin.
RNZB executive director Frances Turner said all of the ballet’s Wellington performances would be staged at the Opera House until the St James was operational again.
Options were being explored to find a dance studio to accommodate rehearsals for the full company of 36 dancers. The ballet also required a smaller dance studio, locker rooms, offices, space for physiotherapy and pilates, and space for a wardrobe and costume department.
The company’s displacement would not mean a move to Auckland, she said.
The strengthening work was expected to start after the New Zealand Festival, which runs between February and March next year.
Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (Wreda) operates the St James Theatre, the Opera House and the Michael Fowler Centre.
Wreda’s David Perks said it was disappointing the St James would be closed, but the end result would be a more resilient historic Wellington building.
Meanwhile, the building housing NZ Fire Service’s national headquarters on The Terrace has been partly evacuated while structural investigations are done.
Tenants including the Fire Service and New Zealand Medical Council decided to remove staff from the CBD building yesterday after an engineer’s assessment.
The property is managed by CBRE, and a spokesman for the company said the offer for tenants to leave the building was ‘‘purely precautionary’’.
‘‘We are still investigating the issues that need repair in the building, so we had a chat to the tenants and gave them the option of staying away until Tuesday,’’ the spokesman said.
There may be some ‘‘propping up work’’ to do before tenants returned, he said. ‘‘There is no risk to the public.’’
Leigh Deuchars, of the Fire Service, said the building’s engineers gave verbal advice on Thursday that remediation work was needed in the building.
‘‘We are still waiting to receive a full report from the building engineers. In the meantime, we are taking a cautious approach and have asked all 279 national headquarters staff to work from home or remotely as best they can.
‘‘Our ability to respond to emergency incidents is unaffected and the national response to the Port Hills fire is now being supported from . . . Wellington City Station.’’
Earthquake strengthening work on the St James Theatre is expected to start next year, and take 10 to 12 months.