Start on Opera House this week

Work starts: The art work on the Hastings St side of the Hawke’s Bay Opera House will be removed this week and stored until it is rehomed in the newly strengthened precinct.

The Hawke’s Bay Opera House strengthening project starts this week, with successful tenderer Gemco Construction taking over the site from today.

The work will start with the removal of the art from the safety fence on the Hastings side of the building over the next two days, to give contractors clear access. The art will be carefully stored until it is reinstated within the precinct. The Heretaunga St artwork will remain in place in the meantime.

Most of the construction will take place inside the building. The largest piece of work is the strengthening of the four-storey brick side walls of the theatre. That involves attaching reinforcing rods to the inside of the walls, then pouring a concrete shear wall against them in stages to the full height of the structures.

Hastings District councillor and chairman of Council’s Opera House and arts precinct subcommittee chairman Malcolm Dixon said the $11 million opera house project is the largest of three in the precinct. Work on putting a permanent weather-proof roof on the neighbouring Plaza will start in January, and options for the adjacent Municipal Buildings are being prepared.

“Everything is lining up perfectly. One of the best pieces of news was central Government announcing in June that it was putting $4m into the opera house project. That not only helps with funding, but also reinforces the international importance of this building,” he said.

Acting mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the news that work was underway was very exciting “for our community and the future of our arts and culture”.

“The safety of our community inside our public buildings is paramount and that has meant taking great care with the consultation and planning for this project. But now we are underway I am very delighted this work has started, as I know our community will be.  The preservation of our beautiful historic theatre is of utmost importance to us all."

 The work is expected to take between 20 and 24 months.

The background

The Hawke's Bay Opera House was built in 1915 in the style of Spanish Mission. Both the opera house and neighbouring Municipal Buildings (built at about the same time) carry Heritage One status, with the opera house considered one of the most impressive examples of its style in the Southern Hemisphere.

Both buildings were closed in 2014 after engineers found they were not up to the required percentage of the New  Building Standard. Inside the opera house, investigations found that the 12-metre side walls of the theatre were at risk of collapse during a sizeable earthquake.

Extensive public consultation was carried out last year asking residents if they were in favour of strengthening and re-opening the opera house. More than 80 per cent of respondents were in favour of bringing the building up to 70 to 75 per cent of the current New Building Standard.

The Plaza was not found to be at risk during an earthquake, but as part of the broader opera house precinct upgrade residents agreed that a new permanent weather-proof roof should be fitted. Other work on the Plaza included filling in the floor to make it all one level to make it suitable for a broader range of events.

Residents asked that potential uses for the Municipal Buildings were explored before a decision was made on renovating that building.