The Christchurch City Council's brand new offices, dubbed 'Bob's Palace' by locals, has barely been operational since it was officially opened last August. Now speculation is rife that the building is far more seriously damaged than Sideshow Bob and his chums are letting on. Will anyone be held to account for this debacle? Don't count on it..
A few weeks ago increasingly disgruntled staff at the Christchurch Art Gallery were told that the gallery would not re-open in 2011 and neither were any commitments being made about 2012.
The art gallery is now occupied by Christchurch City Council staff who, in normal circumstances, would be housed in the nearby Christchurch City Council offices. The stumbling block is that the building has barely been functional since it was officially opened last August.
It was closed for approximately two months when the September quake hit and it has remained closed since the February quake.
Mayor Parker described the damage caused by the September quake as 'superficial' - although anywhere between $5-15 million worth of repairs were done - but he has remained silent about the state of the building since the February quake and the severe June aftershocks.
Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city, is a city without an administrative centre. All that remains is an empty building, which despite the fact that it cost over $140 million (excluding repair costs), remains a quake risk.
Even if the building is reopened many staff have already indicated they will not work in a building that they consider to be unsafe.
Like the AMI Stadium debacle, the same old suspects are involved in this debacle - former mayor Garry Moore, CEO Tony Marryatt, Sideshow Bob and his supporters on council like Sue Wells and Barry Corbett.
It was former mayor Garry Moore who railroaded through the proposal to buy the former Post Office building in the central city and extensively redevelop it in a joint venture with Nga Tahu Property, the owners of the building.
Moore, despite extensive public opposition to the plan, demonstrated scant regard for the democratic process.
As I wrote in 2008:
Just two days before postal voting closed in the October local body elections, the Christchurch City Council voted to spend over $100 million on new council offices.
It was effectively the last act of Mayor Garry Moore and his council.
Garry Moore railroaded the proposal through by ensuring that councillors were given just twelve hours notification that the massive building project would be on the agenda. Councillors were only provided details of the project at the meeting. (This was the same tactic that Sideshow used to steamroll through the Henderson bailout).
Despite knowing very little about the proposal and its implications, the councillors (most of whom got voted back on) voted to spend the money anyway – and they made the rotten decision away from the public gaze. Disgracefully, the meeting was closed to the public – the same public who would have to pay through the nose for the new council 'Palace'.
Sideshow Bob deserves our opprobrium because during the mayoral campaign he publicly stated that, if he was voted mayor, he would defer any decision on any new council building until after the election. Not coincidentally it was during the mayoral campaign that Moore publicly endorsed Bob's bid for the mayoralty.
The many opponents of the plan to buy the old Post Office building said that the Christchurch City Council needed new and purpose-built offices that acknowledged the difficult economic times that the city was facing.
MP Jim Anderton said it was not 'a good look' for the council to be operating in a costly building while people 'really in need of assistance' were not receiving adequate support.
The opponents of Moore's bid to build a monument to himself were dismissed by Bob, who claimed that the new offices would be 'a great asset for Christchurch'.
Said Garry Moore: 'The new Civic Building will be designed as an A grade building to engender a sense of civic pride'.
Mark Solomon of Nga Tahu commented : 'We congratulate the Councillors on their foresight in moving into the field of public-private partnerships which will reduce their costs and benefit ratepayers. The joint venture is groundbreaking and sets the standard for the rest of New Zealand.'
Despite Solomon's grand claims that the new council offices set a new benchmark for the rest of New Zealand, there appears to have been no structural strengthening done to a building constructed in the 1970s and that it fails to comply to modern earthquake standards.
Sideshow Bob has been evasive on this issue but shortly after the September quake The Press reported:
'Parker said the Council had considered upgrading the new civic building to Civil Defense standards, but instead it was built to office building standards.”
Said Parker: "I'm very proud of the way the new council building behaved. It did what it was designed to do and any people inside would have been completely safe." he said.
"If you go around a number of the other high-rises in the city, you'll find a number of them making exactly the same repairs."
Despite Parker's assurances that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the Civic Offices, it was still knocked out of action for two months.
It took an even bigger hit in the February quake and now the building will remain closed for at least the rest of this year. There are rumours circulating that the building is proving to be a engineering nightmare.
Sideshow Bob has yet to come forward with any information on how many more millions have been thrown at this lame duck building.
It is simply unacceptable that this building, which is also supposed to house Civil Defence in times of crisis, is completely disabled.
As with the AMI Stadium the architects of this massive debacle - Sideshow Bob, Tony Marryatt, Garry Moore, Sue Wells, Barry Corbett, to name just several - are not being held accountable. They remain in their highly-paid jobs. The rest of us get to pay for their incompetence and cronyism.