What to do about Peel Street loos?

SPEND THE PENNIES OR BOWL ’EM? There is support for a new Peel Street toilet facility but spiralling costs have district councillors concerned. The current toilets are protected under the Resource Management Act and Historic Places Tairawhiti is keen to see some form of “adaptive reuse” to showcase the toilets’ Edwardian architecture. File picture

With costs spiralling “out of control”, an expensive plan to restore the Peel Street toilets and build a new dunny could be flushed down the pipes.

Gisborne District Council’s community development and services committee last week heard costs to build a new toilet facility in peel Street had ballooned to $215,000.

That resulted in councillor Shannon Dowsing proposing a new motion asking for a new report weighing up the benefits of demolishing the “historic” Peel Street toilet block, versus alternatives.

“In 2017, the council decided to close the Peel Street toilets, build a smaller toilet unit in its proximity, and proceed with earthquake strengthening the existing building,” he said.

“In my opinion, this project has gone so far off track it is no longer representative of any decision the council has made.

“I don’t believe we should be building this additional toilet at the cost we have. It was originally proposed as an add-on to our core project (of earthquake strengthening the existing toilet complex).”

Initial costs of $120,000 for a two-unit toilet now stood at $215,000, due to existing underground piping services in the area.

“The building is inappropriate for 24 hours, so it doesn’t serve its purpose. In terms of retaining the building, that’s a historic decision we need to look at.

“The scope and the budget creep has been ridiculous, to put it bluntly.

“We were looking at $400,000 to do everything. Now we are looking at $1m to do the refit, plus another $215,000 to do the 24-hour facility. The budget has spiralled out of control.”

Amber Dunn seconded Mr Dowsing’s motion.

“There are five sets of toilets at Wainui Beach for all those people from the Coast that drive into town can go to the toilet there. There is a toilet at the Marina car park that can be used as well. One block away from Peel Street is Bright Street toilet. It is not actually that far away to find a public toilet outside of Peel Street.

“I do not support $215,000 for a toilet. We don’t actually have money to be spending like that.”

The issue had been going on for too long and it needed to be “put to bed”.

Malcolm MacLean said he could support replacing the toilets with a new facility as there was definitely a “good reason” to have a toilet located there.

However, the existing toilets were being mistreated, leaving some patrons going to other businesses in the area to use facilities.

“They stink. They are a disaster.”

Larry Foster said the project was now looking like a waste of money.

“I’ll be really happy to again to go back to the drawing board. We do need something there on the site but I’m definitely not in favour of spending money just to keep a building upright and not be used for any purpose. It seems like a waste of money to me.”

Josh Wharehinga said there was strong support in the community for a toilet in Peel Street.

“It’s clear after hearing that just the structural work is going to cost half a million and a 24-hour facility is upwards of $215,000, then we are not going to be able to come in under the $400,000 as budgeted.”

He supported a new facility being built but also supported looking again at what to do with the original building because the council did not have the money.

“We’ve been talking about Peel Street toilets for a very long time and we need to get on with it.”

Bill Burdett said the toilets were necessary in the location but pointed out the issue had been going on for 20 years.

“We have to do something.”

Architectural plans for the planned $400,000 upgrade were approved by Gisborne District Council’s community development and services committee in 2017.

At that time, some councillors expressed concerns there were no exact costings provided.

The Peel Street toilets were once scheduled for demolition but an order from the Environment Court in 1999 prevented their destruction.

The court agreed the toilets were of heritage value, even though they were not listed or scheduled, and that they should be protected.

As with several city centre buildings, there is a government deadline to complete earthquake strengthening work by 2022.

With costs spiralling “out of control”, an expensive plan to restore the Peel Street toilets and build a new dunny could be flushed down the pipes.

Gisborne District Council’s community development and services committee last week heard costs to build a new toilet facility in peel Street had ballooned to $215,000.

That resulted in councillor Shannon Dowsing proposing a new motion asking for a new report weighing up the benefits of demolishing the “historic” Peel Street toilet block, versus alternatives.

“In 2017, the council decided to close the Peel Street toilets, build a smaller toilet unit in its proximity, and proceed with earthquake strengthening the existing building,” he said.

“In my opinion, this project has gone so far off track it is no longer representative of any decision the council has made.

“I don’t believe we should be building this additional toilet at the cost we have. It was originally proposed as an add-on to our core project (of earthquake strengthening the existing toilet complex).”

Initial costs of $120,000 for a two-unit toilet now stood at $215,000, due to existing underground piping services in the area.

“The building is inappropriate for 24 hours, so it doesn’t serve its purpose. In terms of retaining the building, that’s a historic decision we need to look at.

“The scope and the budget creep has been ridiculous, to put it bluntly.

“We were looking at $400,000 to do everything. Now we are looking at $1m to do the refit, plus another $215,000 to do the 24-hour facility. The budget has spiralled out of control.”

Amber Dunn seconded Mr Dowsing’s motion.

“There are five sets of toilets at Wainui Beach for all those people from the Coast that drive into town can go to the toilet there. There is a toilet at the Marina car park that can be used as well. One block away from Peel Street is Bright Street toilet. It is not actually that far away to find a public toilet outside of Peel Street.

“I do not support $215,000 for a toilet. We don’t actually have money to be spending like that.”

The issue had been going on for too long and it needed to be “put to bed”.

Malcolm MacLean said he could support replacing the toilets with a new facility as there was definitely a “good reason” to have a toilet located there.

However, the existing toilets were being mistreated, leaving some patrons going to other businesses in the area to use facilities.

“They stink. They are a disaster.”

Larry Foster said the project was now looking like a waste of money.

“I’ll be really happy to again to go back to the drawing board. We do need something there on the site but I’m definitely not in favour of spending money just to keep a building upright and not be used for any purpose. It seems like a waste of money to me.”

Josh Wharehinga said there was strong support in the community for a toilet in Peel Street.

“It’s clear after hearing that just the structural work is going to cost half a million and a 24-hour facility is upwards of $215,000, then we are not going to be able to come in under the $400,000 as budgeted.”

He supported a new facility being built but also supported looking again at what to do with the original building because the council did not have the money.

“We’ve been talking about Peel Street toilets for a very long time and we need to get on with it.”

Bill Burdett said the toilets were necessary in the location but pointed out the issue had been going on for 20 years.

“We have to do something.”

Architectural plans for the planned $400,000 upgrade were approved by Gisborne District Council’s community development and services committee in 2017.

At that time, some councillors expressed concerns there were no exact costings provided.

The Peel Street toilets were once scheduled for demolition but an order from the Environment Court in 1999 prevented their destruction.

The court agreed the toilets were of heritage value, even though they were not listed or scheduled, and that they should be protected.

As with several city centre buildings, there is a government deadline to complete earthquake strengthening work by 2022.

Demolition a last resort: Heritage NZ

The Edwardian-style Peel Street toilet complex is scheduled Category B in Gisborne’s district plan.

This means it is protected under the Resource Managament Act and would require a resource consent to demolish.

Heritage New Zealand sees demolition as a last resort, and would rather reuse be looked at first if it can no longer be used as public facilities.

Historic Places Tairawhiti committee member Sheridan Gundry said the building was rare as there had been a growing loss of historic public facilities around New Zealand as part of inner city rejuvenation schemes.

“An exception is Wellington’s former public toilets, also formerly known as the Taj Mahal because of its two venting domes, at the bottom of Courtenay Place. Built in the mid-1920s, this too was threatened with demolition yet saved following a public campaign. It is now houses a bar and restaurant.

“Historic Places Tairawhiti wants to counter the ongoing loss of New Zealand’s and the district’s heritage. The Peel Street toilets have heritage merit from an architectural and historical point of view. It sits within a group of buildings that all show similar architectural styles and together form a harmonious streetscape.

“While it may be difficult for the public to see past what is wrong with the building, and the way it is used and abused, removing this building would mean the loss of a building that is an integral part of Gisborne’s CBD.

“We are working to showcase our city’s Edwardian architecture to residents and visitors, and continue to develop walking and bus tours of our heritage. Like Heritage NZ, we advocate for heritage buildings having some form of adaptive reuse rather than demolition.

“Wouldn’t it be great in 2021 to be able to celebrate 100 years of this building being used — whether as a toilet facility or in some other use?”

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