Building on varsity's success

Details of the University of Otago's extensive construction plans, revealed last Friday, are exciting for Dunedin and further underline its fundamental importance to the city's economy.

There are plans to spend $650 million over 15 years on more than 20 priority projects, which vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne said were designed to improve the campus environment for staff, students and the community.

They include the top-priority $50 million-plus dental school upgrade, a science precinct redevelopment, new ''humanities precinct'', new performing arts centre, and a new ''teaching, learning and research'' space in Portobello to replace the university's vacated quake-prone aquarium building, ahead of a new aquarium which is likely to be built in the harbour basin area.

The schedule also includes major seismic strengthening and maintenance, as well as work on its Wellington and Christchurch facilities.

The total spend means Dunedin will experience its largest construction boom in decades - since the likes of Cargill House, Wickliffe House, the Forsyth Barr building, Dunedin Hospital and others were built in the 1960s and 1970s.

The money invested in the city represents more than three stadiums or six proposed waterfront hotels.

The construction phase is expected to create hundreds of jobs, and ensure work over a 15-year period, creating sustainable employment.

The outlook will create further optimism, already in evidence in the latest ANZ Business Microscope, which showed small business confidence is at record highs in the wider South Island.

The work is likely to provide more jobs for Dunedinites, and attract workers to the city.

Many skilled trades staff who moved to Christchurch have been frustrated by the pace of work on the city's rebuild, and the secondary problems associated with travel and accommodation, and companies can bring them back with the certainty of work now and in the medium term.

The university clearly needs to invest in its facilities if it is to compete in the global market and retain its quality reputation.

While it enjoys government funding and local government rates relief, there is no doubt the city benefits significantly from its success and any investment it makes.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is right in saying the city cannot afford to take the university for granted and must ensure its infrastructure and diversity means the city is an attractive place to live as well as work and study.

Having the university as a key player means other business and development opportunities can prosper, too.

If the university's new aquarium is built somewhere in the harbour basin area, it could spur further development in that area, with the proposed waterfront hotel and new Otago Regional Council headquarters still in the offing there.

The relationship between town and gown is pivotal, and the construction boom can only further build the success of both.

And another thing

The hopes and expectations of families who lost loved ones in the collapse of the Canterbury Television building in the February 22, 2011 Christchurch earthquake have come crashing down yet again.

David Harding, who led design work on the CTV building, resigned last week from the Institution of Professional Engineers ahead of two disciplinary hearings into his role in the building's collapse scheduled by the industry body for next week.

Mr Harding's boss, Alan Reay, resigned from the institution two months ago, thereby avoiding similar hearings.

There is no other way to describe the resignations but cynical.

They deprive the 115 victims and their families once again of the possibility of accountability, still denied them, even after the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission of Inquiry found 20 years worth of engineering, construction and council errors and failures led to the building's collapse.

Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith is reportedly due to announce plans to reform the engineering sector at the end of the month.

They can't come soon enough for critics who say the case has again shown the limitations of Ipenz and the legal system - and will no doubt renew calls for a charge of corporate manslaughter to be introduced.

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