Fears South Dunedin library project will face cuts

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Reassurance has been sought the delayed South Dunedin library project will have a revised budget rather than a cost-cutting redesign.

Construction of the more than $11 million community facility will not begin until 2025 and fears were expressed at yesterday’s Dunedin City Council annual plan hearing that inflation could eat into the scale of the project.

Ruth Graham made her pitch for a review of the South Dunedin library budget to councillors, many of whom were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the "They save, we pay" logo of the council’s campaign against the Government’s $80 million cuts to the new Dunedin hospital.

"This council has been through an experience lately around delays, and budgets and money and buildings and so I guess I’m signalling the concern that I feel — and that maybe others feel that as well," Dr Graham said.

Dr Graham, who grew up in South Dunedin, said she was presenting to the council on behalf of her family to honour her late mother, Anne Turvey, the last deputy mayor of the borough of St Kilda and a Dunedin city councillor from 1989 to 1998.

"Over the years, she and many other people made presentations to these annual plan meetings asking the council to establish a public library in South Dunedin," Dr Graham said.

"In her 2003-04 submission to the annual plan, she outlined that a South Dunedin public library was raised at the time of amalgamation.

"The decision by the newly formed council at that time was to support those communities where existing public libraries were — but to pay the rent for the St Kilda volunteer library until a public library could be built.

"For that particular purpose there would be a dedicated amount in the annual plan as a reminder of the commitment and the intention of a promise to be kept."

She understood that over time funding had been in and out of the budget, until 2017 when $2.5 million was allocated for the South Dunedin Community Hub.

In 2019, the site at the corner of King Edward St and Macandrew Rd was bought for $4.7 million.

In 2021, it was announced a new library would be built with a sum of $11.56 million included in the 2021-31 long term plan.

After delays, though, the project would now not get under way until 2025 and it would not finish until 2027.

By then it would be 38 years since amalgamation, Dr Graham said.

"Naturally, my family and I are disappointed with the current delay of the project.

"We know it meant a lot to my mother and other people. And this has raised concerns with us about the allocated budget — will it be enough in light of increased building and labour costs over the past two years.

"We don’t want to see a situation where the intended design is cut down to fit, or the words ‘budget blowout’ across the ODT [Otago Daily Times]."

Cr David Benson-Pope said all councillors had been frustrated by the delays and he encouraged Dr Graham to continue to pressure the council about the project.

"Given the T-shirts and some of the slogans around the room at the moment about budget cuts, I think you can probably take a degree of comfort from our attitude about what central Government is doing in respect of how we might behave ourselves if the worst comes to the worst.

"But that said, it’s certainly my observation that there’s a very strong commitment to this community facility happening, and happening in the form that’s been conceived, and happening without any unnecessary delay," Mr Benson-Pope said.