Quake work to shake up cap­i­tal’s cul­tural cen­tres

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - MATT STE­WART AND BRAD FLAHIVE

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.’’

PHOTO: ROSS GIBLIN/FAIR­FAX NZ

Earth­quake strength­en­ing work on the St James Theatre is ex­pected to start next year, and take 10 to 12 months.

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