project breakdown
Why are we doing this?
Rotorua’s grand Elizabethan style Bath House, home to Rotorua Museum, is a Category 1 heritage building and one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand.

The iconic building, located in Government Gardens, was closed to the public on 18 November 2016 following a Rapid Seismic Risk Assessment of the building after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Kaikoura.

A Detailed Seismic Assessment (DSA) revealed the Museum was just 19% of New Building Standard (NBS). Buildings under 34% NBS are considered earthquake prone. Even though the building’s southern wing was rated at 74% NBS, the entire building is given the lowest level of 19%.

Since the Museum closed, Council has been working to fully understand the complex and detailed picture of what is required to strengthen the building to a safe standard, as well as options for its restoration.

Strengthening and re-opening our beloved Museum is considered vital to the vibrancy of Rotorua, both culturally and from a visitor attraction perspective.

The Museum provides an essential means to tell Rotorua’s unique stories, ensuring our history is both preserved and brought to life through engaging exhibitions and experiences. It contributes to our community’s sense of identity and is a source of immense community pride.

Since closing, the Museum team have continued to provide a range of services ‘beyond the walls’ including education programmes, events, and free daily guided tours of Government Gardens. They also manage and care for the many thousands of objects, artworks and taonga in the collection.
What is proposed?
In December 2016 structural engineers GDC began to assess the building. Extensive testing and research was undertaken to fully understand the building’s structure, and geotechnical testing explored the ground condition under and around the Museum.

Because the Bath House has Category 1 heritage status (the most important category of heritage buildings) extreme care has been needed when conducting these tests to protect the heritage fabric of the building.

All of this detailed research is needed to understand the building to provide the best earthquake strengthening solution.

In December 2017 a preferred option to strengthen and repair the building was chosen. The plan includes strengthening the building to a minimum of 80% NBS, restore many of its unique heritage features and develop new engaging exhibitions. 

Experienced heritage architects, DPA Architects, have been appointed to carry out the design work on the Museum, supported by local Rotorua firm Carling Architects.

Locally-based international firm WSP Opus have been contracted as project managers to oversee the numerous contractors that will be involved in the project.

timeline to date
NOV 2016
Rotorua Museum closed.
DEC 2016 – AUG 2017
Building rated earthquake prone at just 19% NBS.
AUG 2017 – DEC 2017
Four structural strengthening options considered from which one was chosen.
DEC 2017 – DEC 2018
Structural and architectural concept designs developed. All objects, artworks and taonga removed from building.
JAN 2019 – OCT 2019
All design phases completed and resource consent granted. Enabling works underway.
NOV 2019 – DEC 2021

What did the Detailed Seismic Assessment (DSA) involve? 
The DSA took months to complete due to the complexity of the heritage building, its unique construction and the range of testing required. The assessment included researching existing documentation and information about the building, opening up and checking the strength of walls (destructive testing), investigating how the building was constructed, core sampling and scans, and geotechnical investigations of the land under and around the building. The assessment was carried out with input from Heritage New Zealand.

What do the cracks look like? 

Historically, there have always been cracks in the original part of the Museum and there has been a monitoring programme in place for many years to pick up and changes. Several new cracks appeared following the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016.

There are cracks visible down walls on the ground floor of the old part of the Museum. Some cracks run from the ceiling to the floor and continue along the floor. Overhead in the basement walkway there have been cracks for many years and a few of these have widened.
Are the taonga in the Museum safe? 

Yes all taonga have now been removed from the Museum and will remain in safe storage or at alternative locations until the Museum reopens.

How many staff have been affected by the closure? 

20 staff were affected by the initial closure and were given the option of taking redundancy. Many were placed in other Council roles where there were vacancies, and others were employed by local tourism operators who offered their assistance. A core group of staff were retained to provide education and holiday programmes, events, guided tours of Government Gardens, and to continue to care for the Museum collection.

How will the cost of fixing the museum be covered? 

The significance of the building both historically and culturally means Council anticipates significant external contribution towards the restoration. Council assumes approximately 1/2 of the project could be funded externally. If the level of funding assumed is not available, the investment by Council will need to be further consulted upon within the community.  Those options may include to continue the project with more investment by Council, or to scale back the project to match available funding, or to look at alternative funding sources. 

What about insurance? 

Now that we have the detailed assessment, insurance is another matter we will need to work through. Insurance for council-owned assets is very different to, and much more complex than, other types of insurance so it’s not a simple question to answer. However, even if we were successful in terms of an insurance payout, it’s unlikely that would cover the full cost. Other funding sources will be needed.

When will the Museum reopen? 

The Museum is scheduled to reopen in 2022.

Why is the strengthening and restoration of the Museum taking so long? 

This building is not only loved by the Rotorua community, but it is also nationally significant so it’s really important that we take the time to do it properly. 

Strengthening the building and reinstating the heritage features is an extremely complex and time consuming process. It is important that the planning and design phases are really thorough to ensure this iconic building can be enjoyed by many generations to come.

We aim to achieve this in a way that balances respect for the building’s heritage, achieves the required structural strength and is practical. What may be seen as a small change on the face of it can actually be incredibly tricky and time consuming to get right. 

Will the building look any different when it reopens? 
The best outcome will be that once completed, the building will look almost exactly the same as it did before it closed. Where changes are visible, the direction from Heritage New Zealand is for any new construction to be sympathetic to the heritage building but clearly differentiated from it.

There will be some small changes to the internal layout to improve visitor flows, ease congestion hot spots and increase capacity. These include a new mezzanine floor to the café, a covered walkway providing access to the mud bath basement, and more toilets. These designs will be contemporary yet sensitive to the heritage architecture of the original building.
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