When did Timaru’s Theatre Royal budget begin unravelling?

The budget for Timaru’s Theatre Royal redevelopment and proposed heritage facility disappeared from publicly available council documents in July, as the costings unravelled.

On September 9, the Timaru District Council released figures publicly showing the cost of the project had increased from the original $23.8 million to somewhere between $38m and $57m.

The council is yet to respond to questions about when it first became aware of the multi-million dollar blowout for the project, who was made aware of that and whether councillors were told.

However, a study of council documents shows the council’s own reporting of the project’s financial status changed significantly in July.

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Regular Theatre Royal “project updates”, which are included in council agendas and display easily digestible updates prepared by council staff, carry much the same information from April 2020 through until July 2022. The updates include information covering an overview, progress report and give an indicative timeline, project risks and project financials.

The April 2022 update, tabled at the May council meeting, says “the combined total capital cost of the project was $29.3m” but added that was “under review after extension of scope as requested by council”.

Three months later, the capital cost budget disappeared from the update altogether. The only reference to the project’s financials in the July edition, issued to councillors, says “the project is to be funded by loan, reserves and external funding”.

However, the July report does warn of excessive escalation in the construction market “running conservatively to 11% for 21/22 and 22/22 financial years”.

Key project updates from the Timaru District Council on the Theatre Royal and Heritage Precinct, with the July 2022 edition that no longer has a budget printed, at left.

Doug Sail/Stuff

Key project updates from the Timaru District Council on the Theatre Royal and Heritage Precinct, with the July 2022 edition that no longer has a budget printed, at left.

On July 15, in response to a question from The Timaru Herald, the council confirmed the budget for the project remained at $29.3m.

However, information supplied by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment shows the estimated cost of the project sat at $39.6m as of the end of June 2022.

The council has been when it supplied the higher figure to the Ministry and why this was not shared with the public..

There was no Theatre Royal project update in the council’s infrastructure committee agenda for its meeting on September 6. That agenda did, however, carry such documents for the Downlands and Te Moana water supply schemes, Three Waters stimulus programme, road renewal and improvement programme, CPlay Playground, Timaru CityTown programme, Washdyke network improvement, Redruth landfill cell and Southern Trust Events Centre.

According to agendas, information councillors received in July show the project team had been carrying out investigations into “option 3”, as recommended by council in September 2021, which involved looking at both the theatre (including the back of house) along with options raised by various stakeholders.

Costs for the redevelopment of Timaru’s Theatre Royal and the building of a heritage facility alongside are facing a substantial blowout.

AIMAN AMERUL MUNER/Stuff

Costs for the redevelopment of Timaru’s Theatre Royal and the building of a heritage facility alongside are facing a substantial blowout.

The report by Nicole Timney, the council’s “theatre lead” and manager of property services, said the “preliminary design phase is now complete, and the contractor is currently working on the pricing elements of the remaining design and build cost”.

Timney’s report has a timeline leading up to September 6, with a “preliminary design presentation” for the project listed in the public excluded section of the council’s meeting.

That ended up being the catalyst to council revealing, three days later, it was rethinking the project with three options unveiled, ranging in costs from $38m to a possibly $57m.

When it released the latest cost projections to the public, the council said the increase in costs was due to the complexity of the project as well as local and global building industry pressures.

Prior to September 6, there were preliminary design reference group meetings from July 12-24, 2022; project steering governance meetings from July 13-August 10. The tenders and procurement committeeand the standing committee meeting, were both on September 6.

The council has said councillors received the confirmed figures in their agendas five days before the September 6 meeting.

The regular updates also show the troubled project has undergone several staffing changes to the project sponsor role from March 2021 to July 2022.

Former group manager commercial and strategy Donna Cross, now a lawyer in Christchurch, was in charge in March 2021, followed by former recreation and cultural services group manager Symon Leggett in October and that had changed to Steve McKnight (group manager commercial and strategy) and Erik Barnes (acting group manager recreation and cultural services) by February 2022 with Jason Rivett (acting group manager commercial and strategy) and Barnes in the position as of July 2022.

There also been a change in project managers with RDT Pacific Ltd taking over in late 2021 from Rubix.

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