FAQs – Pātai putuputu


As a 1940s Category 1 heritage building this structural strengthening and redevelopment project was considered complex from the start. A range of potential risks were identified and contingency budget provision was calculated including for asbestos removal, crack repair and further structural work.

Comprehensive planning and expert investigations were undertaken to inform the project plan and budget. In the case of asbestos, three lots of testing were done, with samples taken from many locations around the site. However, it was not until construction commenced and paint, walls, ceilings, floors and coverings were removed, that the full extent of the issues were uncovered. For example, the seriousness of the cracking and asbestos was much worse than the experts had expected, and until the construction crew exposed all the foundations the team was not aware that the foundations did not match the plans.

Initially the plan had been to remove asbestos from around 20% of the building, focusing on the walls surrounding the foyer. The original plan was to encapsulate the asbestos on a further 60% of the building. About 20% of the building, mainly the stage house at the back, does not contain asbestos. The initial estimate for asbestos removal was 800m2.  Once construction was underway, and the layers were peeled back on the foyer walls, the full severity and extent of cracking was revealed. This meant the project team could not assume the weather tightness and structural integrity of the exterior walls, resulting in the need to remove 1,700m2 of asbestos.

As construction has progressed, cracks have been uncovered right throughout the building. The types of cracks include superficial surface cracking, cracking that compromises the weather-tightness of the building and structural cracking that has required additional engineering design to ensure the building meets the required structural strength. The majority of the cracks on the exterior walls impact the ability to achieve a weather tight building. Without removing the asbestos and repairing these cracks the building would not achieve consent and would leave legacy issues for the future.

The additional funding covers construction costs for extra structural strengthening and building condition repairs. It includes further design work required across the professional services to address structural integrity issues and changes resulting from the actual building construction not matching plans, particularly in the foundations. It also comprises some additional theatre services to ensure that when it opens, the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre will have all the necessary equipment required to operate to the high standard that has been envisioned.

  • $6.7million for building condition issues including asbestos removal and additional structural strengthening.
  • $1.9million for additional theatre services equipment. A comprehensive audit of existing equipment by the new technical expert identified some equipment was no longer compliant, some was beyond its usable life or would be too costly to operate, and some will not meet required performance standards.
  • $1.7million for professional fees as a result of required structural and architectural design changes and the extended time frame. We have reviewed other similar projects and the total fees are still within normal construction project ranges.
  • $0.8million other elements (e.g. signage, consents, communications equipment, and contingencies).

Existing theatre services equipment is being re-used wherever possible but a recent audit has identified that, given the building has now been closed for almost four years, some of this is now beyond its useable life, is no longer compliant or would result in significant operational costs to utilise.

The additional budget is for items essential to operate the Centre from opening. This includes replacing incandescent light fittings with LED and the infrastructure to support it, replacing analogue audio equipment with digital and a new speaker system for the main auditorium. Existing microphones and speakers will be re-used where possible. The analogue video systems will be upgraded to digital, and Fibre and Cat 6 cabling will be installed to meet current and future needs of the venue.

Determining the required amount of additional funding has been a two-step process. The $22.5million project budget, set mid-2019, was based on early design cost estimates. Prior to the main construction contract being awarded in September 2020, some building condition issues were identified resulting in additional design costs and the tendered construction price being higher than originally estimated. To account for these changes the budget was increased to $28.5 million, including a contingency provision, by Council in September 2020.

After construction commenced, and surface layers containing asbestos were removed from select walls where cracking was clearly evident, the cracking was found to be more extensive and severe than expected. Experts were engaged to provide advice around the need for additional asbestos paint removal to access, assess and repair additional cracking now expected in other walls.  Following this extensive work the budget was increased to $33.7 million in June 2021.

Procurement for contracts of this size have a high degree of commercial sensitivity. Making this information public at the time would have compromised contract variation negotiations, needed to address the building condition issues. In particular, the project team needed to ensure our contractors were not privy to information about the contingency allowance, as this could potentially have influenced quoted prices.

The additional funding required to complete the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre will come from within the approved 2021/22 Long Term Plan funding envelope.

We have now finished structural work and are 85% through building, theatre services will follow. However, there are still risks particularly given the difficult construction market environment with supply, resource and cost escalation issues. We are doing everything we can to mitigate cost risks including having professional project management and a quantity surveyor team, strict approvals processes, with high scrutiny of all changes and claims.

External funding raised to date includes:

  • $5.2 million from NZ Lotteries
  • $3.0 million from Sir Owen Glenn
  • $1.5 million from Rotorua Trust
  • $1.0 million from NZCT
  • $150,000 from Ngāti Whakaue trusts
  • $125,000 from One Foundation
  • $50,000 from Pub Charity
  • $50,000 from Four Winds Foundation
  • $25,000 from Lion Foundation
  • $632,000 from Ministry of Art Culture and Heritage
  • $5,000 from Grassroot Central
  • $57,000 from Grassroot Trust

Under current Building Act legislation earthquake prone buildings must be strengthened or demolished. As a Category 1 heritage building, demolition was an option of last resort. Estimates to demolish and build new were in the region of $70-$80million so this option was discounted as unaffordable.

  • Rotorua Museum – currently estimated at $53.5 million
  • The Sargeant Gallery Whanganui – currently estimated at $49.3 million
  • Wellington Town Hall – currently estimated at $112 million plus contingency
  • St James Theatre Wellington 1600 seat – currently estimated at $37 million
  • Christchurch Cathedral – currently estimated at $154 million
  • Court Theatre Christchurch, 360 and 130 seats – $36m
  • Christchurch Townhall – $152m
  • Hastings Opera House and Municipal Building – currently estimated at $38 million
  • Momentum Theatre Hamilton (not a heritage building) 1300 seat – Hamilton City Council opted to demolish it at a cost of $3.6 million, and build a new theatre for an estimated cost of $80 million
  • Auckland ASB Waterfront Theatre 650 seat, $36.5m
  • St James Theatre Auckland 1200 seat – $40m
  • Aotea Refurbishment – $67.5m
  • Tauranga Council were looking at $80m for a new 1000 seat theatre in 2018

General Project FAQs

The detailed seismic assessment of the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre put the building in the earthquake prone category which makes it a high risk building should there be a seismic event. The safety of the public and staff is our priority. The current building act requires earthquake prone buildings to be either strengthened or demolished.

Construction will be complete in November 2022. This will be followed by final building fit-out and commissioning, with the redeveloped centre reopening in February 2023.

$11.794 million has so far been secured from the generous contributions of external funding partners, with the remaining balance to be contributed by Rotorua Lakes Council.

○  Strengthen Rotorua’s rich and diverse performing arts by providing a venue that can showcase all forms of performance, create vibrancy and optimise use of the Centre
○  Strengthen the building for earthquake stability, providing safe access for our performers, audiences and staff
○  Create a fit-for-purpose venue that encourages wide use and enables the presentation of high quality performing arts for Rotorua locals and visitors

○  Enriched creative experiences for our performers and audiences
○  Increased use of the facility by performing arts groups
○  Quality performance spaces that enable a diverse mix of shows
○  Affordable performance spaces for local organisations and smaller touring companies
○  Provide the Bay of Plenty with a venue capable of attracting and hosting larger commercial shows that the region currently misses out on
○  A variety of entertainment options for locals and visitors
○  Reflect Rotorua’s unique identity through rich arts, diverse performance and Māori culture
○  Support RLC Vision 2030 – strong culture, easy lifestyle and diverse opportunities and Te Arawa Vision 2050 – Te Arawa is recognised as the culture capital of Aotearoa and the centre of Toi Māori excellence

No. An audit of all major public council buildings was completed some time ago. Earthquake strengthening work has already been completed on Te Aka Mauri – Rotorua Library on Haupapa Street and the iSite on Fenton Street. Rotorua Museum will remain closed until strengthening and restoration is complete.

These buildings were all identified some time ago as being an earthquake risk under legislation introduced following the Christchurch earthquakes.

Buildings deemed to be at risk require further assessment to ascertain whether they are earthquake-prone and therefore require remedial work.

Construction methodology has changed, and so has legislation in terms of required standards, which has impacted on the safety rating of many buildings around the country. As a result, a number of Council-owned public buildings have closed around New Zealand.

Accessibility is a key consideration for both access to the building, and accessibility throughout the building. There are significant access improvements being made to the toilets, seating options, front stage access and the mezzanine.

The landscape design has changed to enable a vehicle drop off. Parks immediately in front have been removed but drive by drop off is in. Mobility parks will be nearby on Haupapa and Arawa Streets.

Due to the complexity of the project (heritage building, geothermal location and specialty performing arts requirements) project management specialists, AECOM, have been contracted. Their task is to tightly manage all aspects of the project, whilst still delivering the required quality and functionality for our community.

There are significant risks for a project of this complexity, and some contingency is included in the budget to allow for additional costs should these risks be realised.

Prior to closure, usage of the Centre had been declining, and it was starting to feel tired and dated. When the name was changed from Rotorua Convention Centre to The Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre in 2014, there was no corresponding investment to ensure that the facilities and services could actually deliver the requirements for performing arts. When the Centre had to close for seismic strengthening in November 2017 the opportunity was taken to make the necessary upgrades to ensure the facility will be a thriving performing arts centre for our community for many years to come.

Sir Howard Morrison is widely regarded as one of Aotearoa’s great performers, and he was a strong advocate for youth in the arts. Of Ngāti Whakaue descent, his name is synonymous with the arts in Rotorua. To learn more about Sir Howard click here

We are looking at a range of new ways to operate the centre ensuring our community can access the facility for their shows.

  • Some of the new infrastructure will reduce the amount of set up time required, helping to keep costs down.
  • A new audience development strategy will ensure that we are programming the types of shows that our community want to see, making the venue attractive to commercial touring shows, and balancing shows with business events to generate revenue that will support the operational costs of the Centre.
  • A contestable performing arts fund, flexible pricing and community use rates are all being considered to help make the Centre affordable for local performances.

Civic Theatre FAQs

When reviewing the operation of the centre prior to closure, it became clear that Rotorua, and the wider Bay of Plenty, had missed out on many shows because the theatre was not big enough to make these shows commercially viable for the touring companies.

The original theatre was 1,000 seats, and space for most of the additional seats will be achieved by removing the wall at the back of the circle where the floor raking still exists. The sound desk, which was housed here, will be relocated downstairs.

Through detailed modelling, the architects have been very careful to ensure that there will be good sight lines from all the new seating locations.

It is a compliance requirement that all seats should be accessible by someone getting past a patron who is already seated. While a centre aisle was considered, this would mean losing the best seats in the house, and ensuring good sightlines from the outside seats is also challenging.

Yes – new fire egress from the circle is being incorporated into the new design, and the mezzanine space is also being extended to accommodate larger numbers of people.

The main sound and tech booth will be relocated downstairs to the back of the stalls.

Yes – there will be pianos available for both these spaces. Doorways are also being made wide enough to ensure pianos can be moved between spaces, and a new lift to the mezzanine will be large enough to accommodate a piano.

Concert Chamber FAQs

High quality, theatre-grade retractable seating, mobile seating units, mobile staging and a comprehensive rigging grid will enable the Concert Chamber to be set up in a range of layouts, including the traditional stage-end.

The retractable seating planned for the Concert Chamber will be theatre grade, upholstered seating – so much more comfortable than the standard metal or plastic retractables found in many venues.