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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Volume 38, No 1. March 4, 1975

Precast University?

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Precast University?

Very few people seem to be aware of the extent of construction, present and planned, which comes under the harmless title of the University Building Programme; yet large numbers of them are affected both directly and indirectly. They include residents of Aro St & Kelburn areas, the academic and technical staff, and the students themselves. There is a dangerous lack of communication or discussion between the University Council planners and the groups affected, leaving the planning bureaucracy with its preconceived ideas as to the shape and form an institution for professional education should take. The result is a series of concrete and glass monuments to preformed and precast ideas, neither suitable nor necessary, but nevertheless expensive.

There are approximately 160 acres of land designated for university use now and in the future. The present campus has all its permanent structures on a 23 acre site which extends from the junction of Kelburn Parade and Salamanca Rd to the cliff above Boyd-Wilson field. Within this section there are two areas of building programme activity.

The first is the Hunter building, erected in various sections between 1906 and 1923. It has unreinforced wall and a generally wooden structure in the roof and floors. It falls into the municipal category of "buildings likely to be dangerous in an earthquake". After an earthquake in 1973, the university's building consultants were asked to carry out a structural survey of the Hunter building. This indicated that if certain hazards were removed the building should have a life up to but not exceeding 1985.

Later evaluations in May 1974 showed areas of particular weakness, and as a result the university has adopted a three-year plan of evacuation.

In November 1974 it was announced that Hunter was too costly to preserve, when the university's' consultant engineers had compared preliminary cost estimates for preservation with comparable replacement costs. In the meantime the Students' Association filed an injunction to prevent the demolition of Hunter and approaches have been made to bring it under the jurisdiction of the Historic Places Trust.

Present Students' Association policy is that the Association opposes the demolition of Hunter and proposes the alternative of upgrading and retaining this building so as to maintain its architectural features intact. As a substitute for the buildings planned in the Von Zedlitz programme, the Association calls for the replacement of Hunter, should the alternative fail, with a building geared to a convivial learning atmosphere determined in consultation with the Students' Association. As the injunction has now been served the matter is sub-judice and the University will not make any further comments.

Elevation from Kelburn Parade.

Elevation from Kelburn Parade.

The other construction project on the campus is the Cotton buuilding. At present the new lecture theatre section is nearing completion and is scheduled for occupancy after the May holidays. The Geology block is progressing visibly at the north end of the site while work is about to commence on the Physics block at the other end. They are thus constructing the building from each end and hope to meet in the middle some time in the future.

The design was completed for the Cotton building in 1964, over a decade ago. Planning was naturally undertaken with regard to now outdated roll projections. There has been stagnation of the absolute numbers enrolled at the university. In May 1971 Dr Culliford stated that "The university appears to have entered an unforseen period of growth which could mean a total of 8,000 students by 1974." Since that statement was made, the roll of the university has remained almost constant. More important, there has been a swing away from science subjects in proportion to other disciplines. This means that the Cotton building has more undergraduate science facilities than can possibly be utilized. Dr Culliford claims, however, that because there is now a greater percentage of postgraduate scientists, they will somehow be able to fill up all the extra space in the completed Cotton block.

A second area of development is the three-acres on the west side of Kelburn Parade, where the Von Zedlitz tower, the first of a proposed four-tower complex, is being erected. This project was developed in the 1968-9 period, when the roll was still increasing. The first tower is to house Languages and Literature, and Sociology, the reason behind this being the wish to remove staff and students from the "ramshackle" houses which they now occupy, and to eliminate the long distances the students have to travel, while bringing colleagues from similar disciplines closer together.

Map of Kelburn with a circle arround Kelburn Parade

The need for more library seating space and the eventual utilization of all the floors of the Rankine Brown building by the library means the eventual ousting of the Commerce and Administration faculties, who will move into "tower two", and have page break the delightful privilege of giving it a name. Dr Culliford says it's vital that the second tower be completed since this is the one to receive the bridge structure across Kelburn Parade. He admits however that the third and fourth tower blocks are a matter which should be discussed. It is therefore important that students make their feelings known before it is once again too late.

Photo of Victoria University from The Terrace

The City Council has laid down as a condition in the building permit that the VZ tower block is built with two storeys less than the ten planned. The University is legally bound to accept this condition if it picks up the permit from the City Council. However, the Council had already given permission to the University to start construction without a permit. So the University is putting in the foundations for a ten storey building, while the City Council has laid an injunction against them on behalf of the residents of Kelburn, to enforce the conditions of the permit. Dr Culliford says the Council are "Sabre-rattling and making idiots of themselves", but it is the University which is being arrogant in taking advantage of the Council's initial go-ahead.

VZ construction time has been estimated at twenty-seven months, but the present hope is that it will be ready for moving into in the 1976 to 1977 vacation, with the possibility of the Language department occupying part of the building somewhat earlier.

There are three other areas designated for, university use. The most important is a massive block of 120 acres in Pohill Gully along the bottom of which runs Holloway Rd. The Council is very keen to develop this area for much needed housing.

Dr Culliford, in defence of this large area of university land says firstly that it is somewhat rugged and there are parts worth preserving in their natural state, and secondly that those areas which the University will use eventually will be (or storage buildings, maintenance, playing fields, glass-houses and so forth. Meanwhile, people living there are reluctant to carry out improvements or renovation because as well as the normal building permit they also have to obtain permission from the university authorities.

As properties come up for sale in this area they are purchased on behalf of the University and held by the Public Trustee. The University is presently buying up properties in Holloway Rd. Fairlie Terrace, Adams Terrace and Kelburn Parade. With the help of the City Council they are constructing a new road which will link Kelburn Parade with Aro St. The Council seems to have lost some of its enthusiasm in the idea, which was obviously planned in conjunction with the now defunct North-west connector, so that instead of building a road directly to Aro St. it is now planned to connect up with Devon St. just below the hairpin bend, as a temporary measure.

Map of Kelburn Parade and Glasgow Street

It can be seen that the prime factor of the building programme is expansion. The University Council finds the possibility of slowing growth hard enough to accept; a stagnating roll is absolutely incomprehensible. Thus the Cotton building, with its tremendously large and expensive structure, is going to be completed only to be underutilized. Even though the plans were prepared in 1964, the falling rolls combined with the swing away from science subjects have not influenced the University Council to alter in any way the, planned size or interior design of Cotton.

Architectural drawing of Kelburn Parade with proposed university developments

Similarly the third and fourth towers on the west side of Kelburn Parade do not seem to result from any need now or in the reasonably foreseeable future. The buying up of land to the south of the University around Holloway Rd. seems to be an excessive worship of the idol of future growth. Even the extension of the university complex as far as the land between Devon St., Fairlie Terrace and Adams Terrace appears to be an unnecessary use of the purchasing authority of the Public Trustee, in the inner suburbs of a city so desperate for housing.