‘Bombshell’ decision not to move archives

After seven years of seeking a new space, archivists are stunned after receiving the "bombshell news" Dunedin’s archives will remain in their current location.

The Archives and Records Association of New Zealand (Aranz) says the current space, in the basement of the Civic Centre, is unsuitable to store the archives and the archives could be removed from the council’s care if a suitable replacement is not found.

The organisation expressed its dismay to the council over this decision at the annual plan submission hearings on Tuesday.

At last year’s annual plan hearings, the council said it was investigating relocating the archives to the upper basement of the Dunedin City Library.

Former Archives New Zealand Dunedin regional archivist Peter Miller said Aranz believed it had convinced the council the current location was not suitable.

Then in February, it received the "bombshell news" moving the archives to the library was not being considered.

It was told the move to the library would be too expensive, at between $1 million and $2 million.

"We have great doubts about its suitability and certainly it’s not a nice place for staff to work and researchers to go and use the archives."

The space that held the city archives needed to meet the requirements of New Zealand’s chief archivist, who had expressed interest in this matter, he said.

Cr Jim O'Malley asked what the chief archivist would do if council did not meet their requirements.

"That would be a very serious situation," Mr Miller said.

The chief archivist could remove the archives from the council’s care if it did not meet Archives NZ standards, he said.

Former Hocken librarian and Archives NZ council member Stuart Strachan said navigating the basement to the archives was "quite a torturous route".

The basement was difficult to access, not continuously staffed and had numerous piping problems that posed a flooding risk.

Mr Strachan said if there was an earthquake, the pipes would fracture and put the collection at risk.

The archives were the premier collection relating to the city’s civic history and were in "the worst condition of any heritage collection in Dunedin", he said.

Following the hearing, in a statement released on Tuesday, council property services group manager Anna Nilsen said it was confident a redevelopment of the city’s existing archive storage area would ensure the safety of the city's precious collection.

"We recognise the importance of this taonga, which is why we’re committed to investing in our existing facility to make sure it is fit for purpose into the future."

The second floor basement level of the city library was not a feasible option as structural strengthening was needed to accommodate the heavy archival shelving, Ms Nilsen said.

"Instead, we have taken another look at our current facility, and we’re confident a redevelopment there will work.

"The Civic Centre basement is already on a ground-bearing slab, meaning it can cope with higher loads, and we will no longer be using the surveyors’ room because we agree stormwater pipes in its ceiling are a risk to our collection."

The project was already in the planning stage and more details, including a cost and timeframe for the upgrade, would be confirmed in due course.