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Earthquake structural fears leads to indefinite closure of Wellington’s Central Library

Earthquake structural fears leads to indefinite closure of Wellington’s Central Library
March 20, 2019

Wellington’s Central Library has been closed indefinitely, after the City Council received engineering advice that its structure might have significant vulnerabilities in an earthquake.

The decision is based on new guidelines, based on how precast concrete flooring systems perform in earthquakes. With the Library’s precast floors similar to those in the Statistics New Zealand building, which partially collapsed in the 2016 Kāikoura earthquake, engineers told the Council they were concerned about the fixings to the seatings that house the library’s floors.

Wellington City Council Chief Executive Kevin Lavery, in consultation with Mayor Justin Lester and Councillors, made the necessary decision to close the Library and public car park as of 8.30pm on Tuesday (19th March).

The closure comes after the Council received a final report from a team of engineers it had commissioned to review new guidance from the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The engineers have raised concerns about the building in the event of a significant earthquake.

Explaining the closure, Wellington Mayor Justin Lester advised “based on the information we have this is the only decision we can make. This is about public safety.

“The Wellington Central Library is no ordinary CBD building. It is one of the city’s busiest buildings with 3,000 visitors a day, including 500 children. The safety of our residents is paramount.

“We will be making every effort to ensure that library services will be back in action as we know how crucial they are to the city and how disruptive this will be.

“For me, the Library is the living room of our city and I understand how disappointed Wellingtonians will be to have a cherished and much-loved venue close. It pains me too.

“We will do our very best to operate temporary facilities and to make the investments we need to make the Central Library building safe for Wellingtonians.”

Lavery added “following receipt of MBIE guidelines last year, the Council commissioned an engineering assessment of the Central Library building. We received the engineering assessment yesterday and we have acted quickly to close the library based on this advice.

“With this in mind I made the decision to close it. The safety and wellbeing of the public and our people is our number one priority.

“It was already in our plans to do seismic strengthening work on the Central Library building, so it would have needed to close to carry out these works at some stage. The engineer’s report has made it necessary for me to decide to make this closure happen more quickly.

“As a precaution we are also closing some areas of the footpath around the library as these areas are within the building foot-print. This includes some access routes to the Civic Precinct; alternative routes will be put in place.

“We have been briefing our team, Councillors, library tenants and contractors as well as using a number of communication methods to notify our library users today.”

The expectation is that there will not be job losses as a result of this closure.

The Council is developing different ways to offer alternative library services including making use of its branch network, digital services and other offerings in the City.

For ease, all items currently on loan from Central Library will be renewed and fees suspended for returning items to other branches.

The library is a popular building in the city, and this closure will affect many people in different ways. Council’s community services team will be working with social agencies to make sure some of the city’s more vulnerable users are supported.

Wellington Central Library images courtesy of Wellington City Council.

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