Opinion: Time for action at Southland Museum and Art Gallery


Southland Times Bob Simpson 16:23, April 19 2018

The tuatara we celebrate at the Southland Museum have been around for thousands of years. Habitually they are quiet and stationary. Suddenly, they move quickly. 

Many people hope our new Invercargill City Council chief executive, Clare Hadley, will make some good things happen quickly. 

On Monday April 9 Ms Hadley and Toni Biddle, a city councillor and chair of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Trust Board, announced the closure of the museum in three days' time. This decision generated prominent headlines and disbelief in our community. 

It is good that the chief executive's report, recommending the closure, and the two reports from engineers, are available on the Southland Museum and Art Gallery website.

Under the current proposal many museum staff have had their jobs disestablished. They have until April 23 to express their views and the final decisions will be made on April 30. In the meantime, the community and the visitors who wish to visit the museum are faced with signs on the web site "Sorry we are Closed" or on the entry door "… Museum is permanently closed". 

The staff and the Southland Museum and Art Gallery are vital for our community. The services the staff provide, and the experiences museums and art galleries provide, are important.

While the Richardson Group are building great museum facilities, our public bodies are closing our largest facility. What sort of town is this?

Since 1975 I have been a registered architect in Invercargill and I have worked in teams with good clients, engineers, quantity surveyors and builders. New Zealand is an earthquake prone country and it has been zoned into three levels of risk. Invercargill is in the middle risk zone. 

What advice did the chief executive consider when making her recommendation to the Invercargill City Council to withdraw the staff from the museum? The article on the museum website states it was a 2013 seismic assessment report and a March 2018 three-page letter commenting on the 2013 report. 

In the recommendations in the 2013 report it states: "carry out a geotechnical investigation".

Why has this investigation not been done?

Two experienced structural engineers have informed me they expect the ground conditions to be better than the assumptions made in the 2013 report.

They also question the occupancy loading of the building, chosen for the calculations.

If these engineers are correct, then the overall seismic rating of the museum building would be around 50 per cent of NBS (New Building Standard) without doing any strengthening work. 

In 2006 I wrote in the book Murihiku the Southland Story, that "Bill Richardson was a man who cared about his city, but he didn't mince his words". At a packed public meeting 1993, he told mayor Tim Shadbolt that Invercargill needed to "improve its act". Bill spoke of his experience in dealing with councils throughout the country and described Invercargill's performance as at the lower end of the scale.

Many people who deal with the ICC have serious complaints about poor service. I hope our new chief executive can change the culture and employ some energetic, competent mangers.

On page 2 in The Southland Times on Wednesday April 18 there was an article "Gallery to get earthquake strengthening" with a picture of curator Jim Geddes outside the 1909 building in Gore, which now contains the Eastern Southland Gallery.

Mr Geddes says the building is "in pretty good nick". The article explains that in July this year work will start on a $800,000 building project to make the building safer. The building may close for about two weeks.

What a contrast with Invercargill. Mr Geddes has shown leadership in Eastern Southland since the 1980s and has a good team and community support. 

Since the late Russell Beck resigned as director of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery in 1999, we have not had a director or a manager who has had the skills and passion to provide the leadership this sector needs.

The chief executive's report under a heading of reversibility states: "The recommended decisions would be easily reversible should different information come to pass".

I recommend the trust board engage a competent structural engineer and get a test done of the ground conditions and review the occupancy class. Then maybe we could get the museum open quickly and save all the staff positions.

In the meantime, the current staff could set up exhibitions in the inner city, where there are plenty of suitable buildings available. 

If you want to make a difference, make a submission on the Invercargill Long-term plan by 5pm Friday April 20 explaining you think art and museum spaces are important in Invercargill, and attend the city council meeting at 4pm on Tuesday April 24.