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Press Release – Sarjeant Art Gallery Nov 2019

Letter to the Editor

Announced in the Chronicle, WDC have voted to award a 20 million dollar contract to construct the new extension wing to the existing Sarjeant Art Gallery.

There are many questions that should and must be answered before committing to such a project.

1/ Why would any developer commit to a new addition to an existing building before the main building has had a final detailed design or costs estimates have been finalised. It’s exactly like buying a building that needs extensive work and adding on an new extra room without fixing the existing building or even finalising the costs.

2/ Why has WDC been so secretive in estimated projected costs of the Sarjeant rebuild. Initially the public were told in May 2015 (RNZ News) the total redevelopment costs would be 31.5 million dollars of which 5 million was budgeted from ratepayer council funding, this was on top of the 4 million already spent in establishing the Sarjent on the Quay. Then Mayor, Annette Main was quoted as saying ” we have promised our ratepayers that we will do this only if we source the money from outside Whanganui”.

Since this initial cost estimate we have had revisions of up to 35 million then over 40 million and Wanganui Ratepayers Association has had a reliable source within council tell us that a new estimate of 50 million or more is likely.

So far we believe that around 25 million has either been donated, sourced from the previous National Government and more recently from the Provincial growth fund, that leaves a shortfall of 25 million or more that council has promised to make up, this was one of the conditions of securing central government funding, “Council will fund any shortfall”.

3/ if it’s going to cost 20 million just to build the new extension wing then what is the cost going to be to provide the very expensive major rebuild of the existing Sarjent building.

4/ Are Whanganui ratepayers expected to pay potentially for the borrowing of 20 to 30 million extra on top of the already committed 5 million from council. This could blow out the WDC and ratepayer debt to well over 100 million dollars.

5/ At the pre election “meet the candidates” public forum existing and potential council candidates were asked for a show of hands of who would be willing for council to borrow to fund any shortfall on top of funds already committed for the Sarjent rebuild, only two now sitting councillors put their hands up, Helen Craig and Josh Chandulal -MacKay, so why have our new council voted to proceed with a project that could cost Whanganui ratepayers millions of dollars and placing us in a crippling debt situation for years to come.

Wanganui Ratepayers Association can only conclude that we (the ratepayers of Whanganui) have been deliberately left in the dark about the true costs of this project, and that the work about to start on the new 20 million dollar extension is a deliberate strategy of “well, we have started now so we have to proceed no matter what the final cost may be”.

We strongly advocate a stop to any work taking place until the true and final complete development costs are known and where that funding is coming from.

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