When the news came through last week that the venue for Nelson’s Fringe Festival was being shut down because of earthquake risk, the team behind it were in shock.
“We’re only seven weeks out and The Refinery has been our home since 2015,” says festival director Laura Irish.
“There’s no other venue in town that can house us for the same price and changing it now is a huge upheaval.”
But luckily, the Nelson Centre of Musical Arts has come to the rescue, offering their second performance venue for the festival.
“The Fringe isn’t the normal vibe of the NCMA,” says Laura.
“For a week, it will be merging the classical and the quirky. We’ve been offered a really amazing deal, it’s a state-of-the-art space, and technical-wise, it’s a big upgrade from The Refinery. We’re very grateful.”
The Fringe Festival is only one user to be displaced after Nelson City Council announced the closure of two buildings last week. Along with The Refinery, the Stoke Memorial Hall will close to the public at the end of March due to earthquake-related concerns.
The Hounsell Circle Bus Shelter will also close and the removal of the former Mediterranean Foods building is to be brought forward.
“All the buildings are known to be earthquake-prone. Although none of the buildings pose any immediate danger to the community, council are not prepared to accept the level of risk they present should an earthquake occur,” read a statement from council last week.
Any building under 34 per cent is considered earthquake prone, and reassessment of Stoke Memorial Hall undertaken at the end of last year found its original 2014 assessment of 24 per cent of the New Building Standard (NBS) should be revised to 17 per cent.
The former Stoke Seniors building will also close while council assesses options to mitigate the risk posed by the hall.
The Refinery was given a rating of less than 15 per cent in 2012.
New earthquake-prone building assessment criteria have been introduced since the building was first assessed, and a subsequent review in February found more work is required, including geotechnical analysis.
The next steps for both buildings will be considered through the annual plan 2020/21 process, and in consultation with the community.
Group manager community services Roger Ball says they are being mindful on the impact the closures will have on users.
“We recognise the inconvenience closing these buildings has on those who use them, and we will do our best to minimise the disruption.”
He says at this stage there are “no precise numbers” in terms of cost.
We need to track through what costs will be and bring that to the community services committee.”
Lloyd Harwood from Arts Council Nelson, which is based in the Refinery, says it was an “absolute shock” when the news came through.
“We didn’t even know they were doing another assessment … it was a total shock.”
Council has given the small team behind the Arts Council and The Refinery until the end of next week to find a new home.
That includes the five artists who have their studios there.
“They are totally gutted, there is not a lot of studio space in Nelson.”
They are in the process of finding a new home, but Lloyd wanted to assure the public that the business for Arts Council, including assessing Creative Communities applications, will continue as usual.
He says they are hoping to return to The Refinery after the strengthening work, which may take 18 months, but it may be a different looking building then.
They are also looking to find alternate gallery spaces for those artists who had shows booked in with them.
Meanwhile, Laura says she is grateful that the Nelson City Council has come to the party with a grant to help transition the festival to NCMA.
“It’s fantastic and a great show of support as the change in venue was going to be a big financial hit for us.”
NCMA director James Donaldson, says he is excited to step in and help the fringe team.
“It’s been remarkably easy, because they’re a flexible team and a great bunch of people to work with.
“Our second performance venue has done a few classical gigs, but we know it’s got more in it. It’s exciting to see it really be stretched it its limits. It’s all about the possibility, not the challenge.”
Chair of council’s community services committee Matt Lawrey says staff are doing everything they can to minimise the disruption users will be facing.
“Council recognises that when we close buildings it creates lots of headaches for some people, and we are really sorry for the inconvenience these changes are going to cause.
“But the last thing we want to do is upset people and we know that staff would not be taking this step unless they believed it was in the best interests of the people of Nelson.”