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GDC opens impressive new HQ to the public

Opinion Piece

It’s a new era for Gisborne District Council as it opens its $11m administrative headquarters, Awarua, to the public today.

The impressive building is designed in the shape of a double-hulled waka, reflecting the navigators and peoples who made their way to this place by sea. Awa means pathway and rua a repository of knowledge.

It has, however, been controversial from the start — the object of spirited opposition that turned into a mayoral challenge, and many letters to the editor and social media posts.

These have largely questioned the need for a new building and the process the council followed to arrive at its decision. It was seen by many as a grandiose waste of money — $12.5m when temporary accommodation is accounted for.

The council itself wrestled with whether a new building was needed before finally committing to a complete rebuild in May 2014.

Then there have been questions about the new building itself. When the concept plans were presented to the council for confirmation, two councillors voted against the design. As well as the waka shape, there were claims that working areas would be crowded.

Some people still have difficulty understanding the situation in which council-owned Gisborne Holdings has funded and owns the building, and the council is a tenant.

It is worth remembering that the council’s hand was forced by tougher building regulations after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

First, the original two-storey 1954 building was found to be below earthquake standards. But the killer blow came when the most modern of the three buildings on the site, the 2001 one, was found to have severe structural issues.

The council has been on the Fitzherbert Street site for more than 60 years and even allowing for modern technology, there are advantages in having staff back in the same headquarters — while the public know the area well.

In any case, the die is cast, the building is up and the council has plenty of other issues it needs to focus on now.