Rumours have been floating around St Albans for some weeks that the Christchurch City Council is planning to sell off land at 1049 Colombo Street and Caledonian Road and build a community facility instead at 43a Edgeware Road (also owned by the Council).
If this happens, it would be a reversal of the situation in 2009, when the Council voted to sell the Pool land to fund the extension of the St Albans Community Centre, a decision that led to deep divisions in the St Albans community and continues to impact the area’s social recovery.
I did not believe there was a plan to have a permanent community facility at the Pool site until I read the item below. Although this in the “investigative” stage it looks like these rumours have some substance.
At a recent community board meeting Pauline Cotter, a longtime supporter of the St Albans Pool and Pavilion Group, and also a City Councillor sitting on the community board, tabled the following motion:
“That the Shirley/Papanui Community Board:
- initiate investigation, along with the local community, Council staff and the St Albans Pool Group, of options for a new permanent Community Facility for St Albans, including the option of a mixed use model;
- request that the site at 43a Edgeware Road and adjoining vacant land be included as a site option;
- request that staff, in conjunction with the Community Board, organise a community conversation about a permanent community facility in St Albans by the end of August 2014.”
In August 2010, the Council was in the process of consulting the community over the building of a modern centre (the extension) on the car park at the back of the since-demolished building in Colombo St. An adjacent house in Caledonian Road had been purchased to use as a car park for the complex.
The whole idea of a new building came as a surprise to the St Albans Residents Association, which was successfully managing the St Albans Community Centre at the time but expansion was not on its agenda.
It seemed a bit strange that the design the Council came up with was NOT physically linked to the older centre, not even with a covered walkway. We were told that the new centre would be remotely managed by the Council, probably like it has been recently, and there was some talk of camera surveillance. The reason council staff gave for the lack of connection between the two buildings was to protect the heritage values of the older centre building.
With hindsight, perhaps there was another reason. The Council has a database of quake-prone buildings, which it kept pretty much to itself but its existence was revealed during post quake community meetings. Perhaps they knew how unsafe the building was, even if the users (I was involved with one, through the St Albans NeighbourNet computer room) did not. Council staff were probably doing their best to ensure the safety of St Albans residents but they don’t always keep them fully informed. At the consultation meetings no mention was made about building safety in earthquakes.
A week later the 7.1 earthquake hit – a side wall fell out in the September quake, taking some of our computers with it, and in February deep cracks etched the front of the building, resulting in its demolition months later. SARA chairperson Emma Twaddell told me that because of lack of action on the centre site the association was preparing to install containers as offices and meeting facilities.
Then the City Council was given the use of a portable building by Lions groups, and CCC decided the best use for it was as a temporary centre in St Albans, to replace the demolished community centre. The house in Caledonian Rd could probably have been used as a temporary community centre, however it was rented out instead.
The pool site at 43a Edgeware Road also has a controversial history. The Edgeware Pool was demolished in 2006, against the wishes of St Albans people, including the St Albans Pool Group, and replaced by the Graham Condon Pool, a fair distance away in Papanui.
A local businessman offered to buy the site from the Council so the St Albans community could install a community swimming pool. The pool group and swimming club won the tender for the site in March 2010 but the sale has not gone through yet, although a design by the late Peter Beaven was submitted in 2013 and consent has been sought. Unless covered under the “mixed use” option mentioned above, a community pool does not appear to be an urgent priority.
Is 43a Edgeware Road the best place for a community facility? It was reported in June issue of St Albans News that it is on ECan’s list of contaminated sites; 1049 Colombo St is uncontaminated.
The Council is not in a good space at the moment. There is a 900 million dollar “black hole,” or shortfall in funding, owing to repeated earthquake damage of 1600 council-owned facilities and woeful underinsurance. There is talk about selling city assets (and rates rises) to help pay for the rebuild and community facilities are particularly vulnerable to this pressure.
Community facilities are invaluable to their communities in ways that go beyond money. A permanent community facility, particularly if the community was allowed to manage it, would help provide the resources St Albans needs to recover from the earthquakes and to help heal divisions that began with the demolition of the pool in 2006.