Close this search box.
Canterbury Seeks Massive Upgrade

Canterbury museum upgrade ‘not cheap’
Lois Cairns
Published on, 9 March 2013

A massive and costly project to protect Canterbury Museum’s $700 million worth of assets could see the popular attraction shut for two to three years and officials say if the improvements are not made the museum could become an international pariah and no overseas museum will risk lending it their collections.

“Doing nothing is absolutely not an option,” museum director Anthony Wright told The Press this week. “This is going to be a very big project but we have to do something to protect our assets.”

The project is likely to involve fitting base isolation to the museum’s historic building. Base isolation has been proven to significantly reduce the accelerations and forces in a building during a quake and is widely used in Japan, and in museums around the world, including Te Papa in Wellington.

Exactly how much it will cost to retrofit base isolation to Canterbury Museum’s buildings has yet to be determined, but the cost of base isolation for the Christchurch Art Gallery has been estimated by the Christchurch City Council at nearly $40m.

Canterbury Museum’s buildings are much larger and older and are likely to pose more difficulties for engineers. They will have to tunnel underneath the buildings to fit the base isolators.

“If we’re going to protect the collections we’re advised base isolation is the only thing that is going to work.” Wright said.

“It’s not going to be cheap but it’s time to be bold . . . and recognise that this is an irreplaceable community asset and the sooner we take care of the risks and ensure it is safe in the long term, the better for the community”.

A $70m redevelopment of Canterbury Museum had been on the cards before the quakes, but the damage wrought on its buildings by more than 10,000 quakes has amplified the problems it was facing.

Many of its buildings now need significant repair work and the museum still needs a solution to its chronic space shortage. It has more than 2.1 million artefacts in its collections but only has room to display less than 1 per cent of that.

It was planning to expand into the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, which it had leased from the city council, but that, too, requires repairs and significant seismic strengthening.

“What the quakes have done is give us a wake-up call around the long-term future-proofing of all the buildings and the vulnerability of our collection,” Wright said.

Options for strengthening and expanding the museum were being discussed with engineers and architects and the museum hoped to present plans to the public this year. Whatever path it chose, it would need significant sums of money from central and local government.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has already warned his council it will need to find funds for the museum’s redevelopment in the near future.

Speaking at the city council’s budget meeting last week, Parker said a significant portion of the museum needed rebuilding and the museum could be out of action for two to three years while the work was done.

“This is about the survival of one of the prime pieces of infrastructure in this city,” Parker pointed out. “It is a massive issue that needs to be resolved by the province; they [the museum] are not able to do it by themselves. We need to be part of the solution.”

Wright said the museum had yet to approach the Government for funding as it was still working on its plans. He confirmed it was unlikely the museum would be able to remain open during the redevelopment.