When is the closure effective from?
It is effective immediately and until further notice.
How old is Founders Theatre?
It was built in 1962, making it nearly 54 years old. It had an expected life of around 50 years.
Who requested the health and safety audit and why?
In February 2015 a draft business case on redevelopment options at the Theatre further highlighted concerns about the safety of the flying system.
As part of the business case preparation recent engineering advice has suggested that the auditorium may also be earthquake-prone (this has prompted the commissioning of a structural design assessment).
On 18 February 2016, staff were instructed to cease operating the flying system pending the outcome of an independent health and safety assessment requested by chief executive Richard Briggs.
What were the main issues of concern identified?
The flying system*, which holds lighting, scenic elements, the fire curtain and other items is not certified. The report highlighted that due to the age of the system the load capacity is not rated (i.e. it cannot be confirmed) and with this being unknown the safety of the system is in question. In addition part of the system dates back to 1962 and requires manual operation by highly skilled operators lifting heavy loads by hand.
There is concern that the system holds significant loads, but there is no engineering certification available so the “safe load capacity” can only be assumed. It can’t be tested.
The report indicates there are real and ongoing risks to HCC staff, to performers and to audiences if the flying system continues to be used.
Has the health and safety audit specifically recommended that the theatre close?
Yes. However, the decision to close has been made by Chief Executive Richard Briggs.
Has work previously been done on the flying system?
Yes. Significant remedial work was done in 2010 and in 2014 following reports commissioned by staff. In November 2015, the Council voluntarily put a new safety management plan in place to further reduce the weight loads on the system and also restrict the use of it.
These (temporarily) eased concerns about safety, but have made Founders Theatre less attractive for those needing a modern flying system for performances.
Could Founders Theatre still be used without the flying system?
The flying system supports a key piece of fire protection equipment, a fire curtain, which needs the flying system to operate. If the fire curtain was unable to be used, it would void the theatre’s Building Warrant of Fitness meaning, no, it could not be used.
There are also concerns about the seismic strength of the building, particularly in relation to the stage house and auditorium structures. A more detailed structural design assessment on this has been commissioned.
Could you not just replace the whole flying system?
No. To permanently retrofit a new flying system to today’s standards is not possible in the existing stage house. Extensive structural work would be required in the stage house to do this and that would trigger further earthquake strengthening work in other parts of the building along with upgrades to various building services such as fire protection to bring it up to the current building standards.
Are there any other health and safety issues apart from the flying system that HCC is aware of? If so, what are they?
As already noted there are also concerns about the seismic strength of the building, particularly in relation to the stage house and auditorium structures. A more detailed structural design assessment on this has been commissioned.
Are there concerns about seismic risk?
Yes, as would be expected with a building of this age. However, a previous desktop engineering assessment (as conducted for all Council buildings) indicated that the building was not considered to be earthquake prone. More recent detailed on-site investigations around proposed redevelopment options by a structural engineer familiar with theatre design identified concerns regarding parts of the building being able to withstand an earthquake. Those risks are currently being assessed and that report is not due until the middle of the year to allow time for a full structural design assessment.
Is the health and safety assessment ‘erring on the side’ of caution?
We must put the safety of the public, our clients, contractors and staff first. We have asked a credible and independent health and safety experts for an assessment of risk. Their professional assessment is that Founders Theatre should be closed until further notice.
What plans has the Council had for Founders Theatre?
Council has allocated $16.4 million (inflated adjusted figure from $13.8 million) in its 2015-2025 Long Term Plan to redevelop Founders Theatre in 2021-22 and 2022-23.
In October 2015, work began on a business case to look carefully at the redevelopment of Founders Theatre and consider if funding could be brought forward.
While still in draft form, that business case highlighted further concerns about the safety of the flying system and included initial engineering advice suggesting that the auditorium may also be earthquake-prone (prompting the commissioning of a specialist structural design assessment). It was this business case that prompted a health and safety assessment.
A report will be presented to Council at the end of March where the future of Founders Theatre will be considered.
Could shows and events scheduled for Founders Theatre be moved to alternative venues like Clarence St Theatre or the Claudelands Events Centre?
Some of them may be able to, but not all. Staff are working through that now and will be talking individually to every organisation that has booked Founders Theatre going forward.
What happens to the people who have booked tickets at Founders Theatre?
In the first instance they should regularly check founderstheatre.co.nz for updates about events. As we follow up with each event organizer they will make decisions about their event. This will take place over the next few weeks and we ask ticket holders to be patient while we work through alternative arrangements with event organizers.
In the unfortunate case that an event is cancelled then ticket holders will get a full refund. Should they have any urgent concerns then they can contact Ticketek on 0800 TICKETEK.
*What is a flying system?
A flying system is located above the stage and holds elements that support a production. These elements include curtains, lights, scenery, stage effects and sometimes people. Scenic elements including backdrops can be changed quickly by being flown (i.e. hoisted) into the space above the stage, out of view of the audience.
The flying system is essential for lighting and curtains (including the fire safety curtain). A flying system is made up of a system of ropes, pulleys, counterweights, battens and related components suspended from a grid structure fixed inside the roof of the stage house.