Auckland Council’s finance & performance committee will consider options for the Civic Administration Building ranging from a $70 million remediation to demolition when it meets on Wednesday.
Property manager Ian Wheeler presented the options in a comprehensive report to the committee on the process to determine the building’s future before it becomes vacant in November.
Apart from how the building might be used, the advent of the International Convention Centre at SkyCity poses the prospect of more cultural development around Aotea for multiplier gains.
Council staff have been moving from the former Auckland City Council office building at 1 Greys Avenue, across Aotea Square from the Town Hall, to the former ASB Bank Centre on the corner of Albert & Wellesley Sts since the middle of last year. Auckland Council agreed to buy the ASB building for $104 million in 2012.
Mr Wheeler said the council had no identifiable operational or service requirement for its old headquarter once it was vacated and it would require a major upgrade for anybody else to use it. The building has structural & weathertightness issues, asbestos is prevalent and its building services are dated.
The proposal before the committee is for Auckland Council Properties Ltd to lead engagement with the market to determine the level of market interest to refurbish the building, based on a possible heritage assessment of a category B heritage place.
In addition, Regional Facilities Auckland would develop concepts related to development opportunities around the Aotea Centre in conjunction with a wider council Aotea development framework that would co-ordinate the urban development & planning visions for the precinct.
The committee would reconsider the position in about 3 months, when the 2 council-controlled organisations report back and any relevant submissions on the unitary plan are taken into account.
The building, designed in the mid-1950s & completed in 1966, would have 8479m2 of lettable area on 19 floors. At the moment the council has 16 office floors and the building hosts key computer equipment, a customer service area, a staff cafeteria & training rooms, hearing rooms & councillor offices.
Mr Wheeler said in his report: “The typical floorplates are small with low floor-to-ceiling height. The building’s steel frame structure requires strengthening to meet acceptable earthquake code provisions and the prevalence of asbestos needs to be addressed. The building’s façade, an early attempt at curtain wall construction, requires either major refurbishment or replacement.
“To fully resolve these issues, a comprehensive remediation process would be required. This would effectively involve stripping the building to its steel skeleton structure and rebuilding. The cost of this has been estimated in the region of $70 million.”
The building is an early example of highrise construction in New Zealand. The council’s heritage advisory panel considered a request to assess it, and 2 consultant reports have suggested it warrants a category A listing. The council’s heritage unit has reviewed both reports and found the building clearly merits heritage status as a category B building under the proposed unitary plan criteria, with potential for category A, although more evidence would be required to support that rating.
At the moment, the building has no heritage status. Mr Wheeler said adaptive reuse would require a complete retrofit, leaving little original fabric of the interior, and much of the exterior curtain wall would have to be removed to access the areas where asbestos was still present.
“Based on preliminary analysis, the high costs of refurbishment will significantly exceed the investment value of the building. This means the economically rational decision would be to demolish the building. However, this course of action does not take into account the heritage considerations of the building.”
Mr Wheeler said it was estimated that mothballing the building would cost about $350,000/year.
An initial evaluation procedure rated its seismic strength at 100% of the new building standard (NBS), but detailed structural modelling last year rated the overall building at 62% (earthquake risk) for normal office use. Upgrading the building to 67% could be achieved by relatively limited works, including strengthening mezzanine floor columns & staircase columns. Achieving 100% NBS would require much wider strengthening works and consultants had indicated this would probably be uneconomic as such works would be so extensive.
Mr Wheeler said 350 tonnes of asbestos was removed from the building in 1989, but asbestos remains in areas that weren’t accessible: “If a comprehensive removal programme is not undertaken, there is a risk of asbestos migrating through the building via the ventilation & cladding systems. The council currently monitors this health & safety risk at an annual cost of about $50,000.”
As a refurbishment prospect, Mr Wheeler said the office floorplates were narrow, relatively small by modern standards (453m2 each) and had low floor-to-ceiling heights (about 2.5m).
Mr Wheeler said options for the building included comprehensive remediation, which would require stripping it back to its steel skeleton structure and rebuilding: “The cost of fully refurbishing this building to provide modern office space is estimated at $70 million. This cost assumes that dilapidated elements of the building are renewed.”
Redeveloping for an alternative use would involve either converting or fully redeveloping the building into an alternative use such as residential, hotel or civic facilities: “Reuse of the building would need to align with the city centre masterplan concept of a civic quarter with a cultural focus & important public transport interface. Consultation with Regional Facilities Auckland in the context of the Aotea Centre would also be required.”
If the building was demolished, the site could be converted into public space, used for a new building or divested. Mr Wheeler said a “do nothing’ option wasn’t considered viable: “The need to repair services has been extended beyond anticipated prudent timeframes. The presence of asbestos in the building is a matter that needs constant monitoring. An interim refurbishment solution is not considered viable as this will only provide short-term relief from current concerns and will not address the fundamental deficiencies in the building.”
Based on advice from the council’s engineers & cost consultants, “the preliminary assessment is that it is not viable to refurbish the building for commercial office purposes, nor does council itself have any requirement for further office accommodation.
“Preliminary work has also been undertaken to examine the viability of residential conversion. This found conversion to be unviable. Nevertheless, Auckland Council Properties has received unsolicited interest from residential developers, which may indicate alternative viable schemes. What is not certain is whether market participants have a true understanding of the issues associated with the building’s physical condition.”
Mr Wheeler said Regional Facilities Auckland was looking at ways to optimise the use of the Aotea Centre and was developing a strategy to address the advent of the International Convention Centre. Part of this was likely to involve a desire to develop a strong cultural precinct around the Aotea Centre that would generate a multiplier effect through a thriving hub of performing arts, food & beverage and retail offerings.
“Regional Facilities Auckland is already in discussion with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal NZ Ballet & others in respect of administration & rehearsal accommodation. Options for Regional Facilities Auckland include relocating its own office functions (between 200-300 people) to free up space in the Aotea Centre for performing arts organisations or locating other suitable property.”
Attribution: Council report.