Nelson City councillors have received an update on work to fully reopen Elma Turner Library after the discovery of heavy ceiling tiles that could pose an earthquake risk.

Council Chief Executive Pat Dougherty made the decision to temporarily close Elma Turner Library in June after an inspection of the ceiling tiles discovered some were much heavier than expected, weighing between 8kg and 11kg. 

Since then, a section of the library where ceiling tiles were able to be strengthened has been reopened, and a pop-up library operates in this space. 

Work to bring the current library up to code with a retrofit that would secure ceiling tiles with a metal grid and increase the amount of bracing to the ceiling has been costed at between $1m and $2.5m, depending on what level of New Building Standard (NBS) is achieved – 67% or 100%.   

However, before this work can commence, a Detailed Seismic Assessment (DSA) of the structure of the building needs to be completed. The last DSA of the structure of the building was carried out in 2013, which rated the building at 42% of NBS, which meant the building was not considered to be earthquake prone.  
Chair of the Community and Recreation Committee Tim Skinner said Nelson needed to return to a full library service as soon as possible. 

"We appreciate it's unsettling not knowing the future of the library, but before a decision can be made on the building, we need to know more about its underlying structure.
"With that knowledge, a new Council will be able to make the best decision for our community."

The new DSA is expected to be completed by the end of October. Staff will then prepare a report that will outline the various options for service delivery: go ahead with the work on the ceiling tiles and/or structural work, if needed, or look at leasing an alternative building. 

If there is no extra structural work to carry out, work to fix the ceiling tiles will take 10-15 weeks once consents are approved.  

If further structural work is required, the new Council will need to make a decision about the best way forward, but the timeline will almost certainly have to be extended. 

Councillor Skinner acknowledged how well library staff had adapted to the sudden change. 

“The team made sure core library services could continue while the ‘pop-up’ library was created,” he said.  

“Community groups were found alternative places to meet, books could be picked up and dropped off at our Customer Service Centre, IT equipment was reallocated to Stoke and Nightingale libraries, and staff involved in library outreach programmes found innovative ways to stay in contact with the people involved. 

“If you’ve ever wondered whether people need a library, just take a look at what has happened at Stoke and Nightingale libraries since the closure of Elma Turner. Stoke Library has seen a 30% increase in visitors and Nightingale--an astonishing 100% increase. 

“People like the ‘vibe’ at the pop-up, and I hear that usage is growing steadily. But despite the incredible efforts of staff, it would be wrong to say that we aren’t missing a vitally important public asset running at full capacity.” 

Elected members heard a list of library services that had been impacted by the partial closure, including a reduction of IT services and the ability to hold programmes for schools and kindergartens. 

“What strikes me is the sheer breadth of services offered by our libraries when at full capacity and the social and economic value they bring to our City,” said Councillor Skinner.  

“Ultimately, Council needs to consider the best way to get this facility back up and running so it can return to offering all services in the quickest way possible, while still ensuring the building is safe.”