Pane in the glass — council won’t fund long-running window project
A 17-year stained glass window project won’t be getting any Whanganui District Council funding.
“The Whanganui Story” was initiated in 2006 by then-mayor Michael Laws, with 32 windows planned for the council chamber.
Seven are still to be completed and one is in progress.
The project has relied entirely on sponsorship from the community to this point, with artists Julie Greig and Greg Hall producing the designs and windows.
According to a council report, the cost of sponsorship at the start of the project in 2006 was $3000 plus GST for each window, but by 2017, that had increased to around $7500.
Sponsorship for the design and construction of a window is now between $12,000 and $14,000.
The last three windows cost $14,221.60 (Taylor-Watt, 2019), $8246 (National Council of Women, 2021) and $13,136.50 (Welcoming Communities, 2022).
The council’s creative community adviser Anique Jayasinghe told a recent council meeting the project was completely unique to Whanganui, detailing the many histories of the district and showcasing local creative heritage.
“Over the years, the cost of materials and thus sponsorship fees have increased,” she said. “A review of the funding model is needed.”
Jayasinghe said there were no new sponsorships under review and the search for sponsorships was not currently active.
She believed there were no official contracts in place for “The Whanganui Story”.
“As far as I know, it was a handshake and a verbal conversation with Greg [Hall] and the mayor at the time.”
The council was presented with six options, ranging from providing $100,000 of unbudgeted debt-funded expenditure for five or seven windows to continuing to rely on the sponsorship-only model for them.
Another was to provide half the costs of production and request sponsorship for the remainder.
The five-window option was added after it was suggested by some council staff that two remaining clear would allow for more natural light in the chamber.
In the end, the council voted overwhelmingly to continue to rely on sponsorship.
Councillor Jenny Duncan said she couldn’t support any funding for the project, especially after council staff had spent months trying to reduce rates increases.
While the windows were amazing, it was not critical the project was completed in a particular timeframe, she said.
Whanganui Deputy Mayor Helen Craig disagreed, saying the costs of windows would only go up and funding the project would cost ratepayers “practically zilch”.
“We could get this job done in a couple of years if we go for it now,” Craig said.
“As soon as you say you need sponsorship, then you’ve got to find those sponsors, agree on the design and get the artist available.
“If we [the council] do the full funding, we can control what the next windows are.”
Councillor Charlie Anderson said previous sponsors might get “a bit grumbly” if they found out ratepayers would pay for the rest of the windows, while councillor Josh Chandulal-Mackay said the project largely benefited those who were in the chambers on a regular basis, not the general public.
“Yes, this is the public’s space, but the broad public benefit, to me, I cannot fully articulate,” he said.
“I won’t be supporting any public funding of this particular project at this time.”
Whanganui Rural Community Board chairman David Wells, who has a seat in council meetings but does not vote, said by attending annual plan workshops he had seen the pressure being put on council staff to keep down rates increases.
“It was only last week that we decided on something to put out to the public in terms of a rate rise, then within a week, we are coming back to the council and saying, ‘Can we spend some money we didn’t budget for?’” Wells said.
“I’m gobsmacked, to be honest.”