Councillors concerned at Cromwell's $11m budget blowout

by Kim Bowden - Jul 24, 2023

District councillors have voiced their concerns about an early budget blowout for Cromwell's new hall, with the mayor saying he is "shocked by the numbers".

Ratepayers overwhelmingly gave their support for the proposed lakeside complex on Melmore Terrace during the last Long Term Plan process, where $31.5 million was allocated to the project. But the latest ballpark figure for achieving the current community wish list for the facility is $42.8 million.

At last week's full Central Otago District Council meeting, councillors unanimously voted to approve the demolition of the 63-year-old hall.

The decision was not much more than rubber stamping as elected members were endorsing recommendations provided to them by the seven-strong Cromwell Community Board, which is steering the project.

But it did not stop councillors providing their two cents worth on the project.

Maniototo Ward councillor Stuart Duncan said budget blowouts "always alarm" him, and he has concerns the project scope and budget may "continue to creep".

"These are pretty tough decisions for a board."

An image of Jasmax's latest design for the Cromwell events centre and museum, flagged to cost $42.8 million, a figure that has shocked the district's mayor.

He voiced having trouble reconciling the proposed spend on one big-ticket item against smaller district-wide projects, like roading and bridges in urgent need of repair in his neck of the woods.

But Mayor Tim Cadogan said whether or not the project was worthy of the investment was a decision for Cromwell alone.

Regardless, it was clear he had some reservations about the hefty budget too.

"I've got fairly strong opinions on that, but that's not our discussion, and it just needs to be made clear to the rest of the district who ask the question 'how is it that Cromwell gets to spend this money?', well it's because the Cromwell Borough Council had some really smart investments when they had opportunities 30 years ago.

"I'm shocked by the numbers and question whether it's the best way the money can be spent...But the Cromwell community, well organised by some, came out and said very loudly the most important thing the community can have is a town hall bigger than Balclutha."

CODC property and facilities manager Garreth Robinson said once the old hall was gone geotechnical engineers would have better access to the land and that would give more surety to the new build.

It is his opinion that by really working through all aspects during the design phases, decision makers can proceed with confidence on the end price tag.

He went as far as telling councillors at the meeting that by the time contractors break ground, "I cannot guarantee, but I can almost with some certainty say that the construction costs of this project will not be blown out more".

However, he still admitted it was "a hell of a lot of money".

Vincent Ward Councillor Tracy Paterson asked for some reassurance about funding sources for the $11.4 million shortfall.

Approximately $5 million of it has been flagged as being able to be met by external providers, the remaining $6.4 million by way of land sales within the Cromwell Ward.

Mr Robinson was unable to provide confirmation at the meeting to Ms Paterson that should external funders not provide any of the pencilled-in $5 million, the board would have more money up its sleeve in land investments.

Days numbered - Cromwell's war memorial will be moved to make way for a museum in the new events centre.

While the council okayed the demolition of Cromwell's Memorial Hall and is taking steps to find a building company to replace it, questions over how inclusive the council has been in consulting on the project remain unanswered.

The Chief Ombudsman is investigating concerns raised by Cromwell resident David George about how involved or not the community has been on aspects of the design, location and function of the new events centre and museum, which will take the place of the town's dated and unsafe hall.

Last week Mr George told Crux he'd received a confidential preliminary verdict from the Ombudsman's office for comment, with public and final findings expected to be delivered shortly.

But the involvement of the local government watchdog has not stopped the council from moving ahead with the much stalled project.

The council has begun its search for a builder to take on the ambitious new centre, which is being designed by Christchurch architects Jasmax.

Companies have until the end of the month to make their bids.

The GETS brief for the job says the project involves the demolition of the existing hall and construction of the new events centre and museum on Melmore Terrace.

"It includes the relocation of the existing War Memorial Cenotaph (including other significant RSA artifacts) and construction of new gardens, external landscape and new parking.

"The programme aims to appoint a main contractor towards the end of this year...Looking towards construction (establishment and demolition) start date in November 2023.

"This is a significant project for Central Otago District Council and the community of Cromwell and requires a capable and experienced contractor with track record in the associated works."



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