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Article by By: Nikki Preston - Herald reporter based in Hamilton

Hamilton City Council deemed its closed, earthquake-prone Founders Theatre is unsafe for use by members of the public with the exception of Police or contractors.

But a Hamilton architect, who has done extensive research into the buildings, says the council's double standards are unfounded because the building is safe for all and should never have been closed.
A series of LOGIMA requests by the Herald have revealed that under government legislation Founders Theatre could still be used despite having a low seismic strength rating.
Instead, council staff are making their own calls on who can use it and when and so far it has been the Police and a council lighting contractor who stored goods there.
The findings come as the council's hearing and engagement committee last week received mixed community feedback on its future including replacing it with a multi-purpose park and converting it into a community centre, arts, music, culture or a heritage hub or town hall.
Hamilton City Council initially closed the theatre in 2016 due to issues with its ageing flying system - but it stayed closed after engineers revealed it was earthquake prone. The council then voted against using it as a theatre and instead agreed to co-fund the soon-to-be built Waikato Regional Theatre on Victoria St.
Hamilton City Council general manager venues, tourism, and major events group Sean Murray said while it was not the law - it was council's own policy to stop members of the public using it for large events and frequent use.
Murray said they had moved council staff out of it as soon as they discovered the 'deep rooted seismic issues' and turned down requests for people to use the foyer for events.
"We discourage it. We totally discourage it."
But when it came to Police wanting to use it - the council could see no problem and, according to figures provided under the Local Government Official Information Act, has let them use it for training about five times a year over the past four years.
In the council's original response to the Herald, it said Police had signed a waiver and a No Damage Agreement to use the facility so there was no liability on ratepayers.
However a copy of that waiver signed by Waikato Armed Offenders commander inspector Freda Grace provided to the Herald in a second LGOIMA request showed they had only signed one to use it specifically in June 2018.
Murray said he had been over cautious getting the one waiver and it wasn't required because under government legislation it is still permissible to let people use the building.
"However that doesn't necessarily stop us from letting people go in on an ad hoc basis to do something because that's still quite permissible under both our policy and the government legislation to do so, but we just take that extra precaution when it comes to permanent use or large numbers."
He disagreed it was double standards to only allow Police to use it due to its infrequent use.
"You can put it that way but I wouldn't - it's more to a rule of the nature of the use and the very infrequent and short duration of the use," he said. Each training lasts about two hours and there are up to nine staff at a time.
NZ Police also believed the building was safe for their staff to use.
A Police media spokesperson said the safety of their staff was of utmost importance and every effort was made to maximise the safety of officers when they were undertaking tactical training exercises there.
Hamilton architect designer Andrew Bydder said he had taken a detailed look at all of the reports into Founders Theatre and it was clear that the council had made a "knee jerk" reaction and it should never have been closed.
"The Police should be let in because the building was safe. The public should have been let in because the public are safe. There is no difference and we've missed out on a lot of cultural events for four years unnecessarily."
Bydder said the engineering report stated that the council had 12 years to strengthen the building and did not recommend closing the theatre.
"I just look at the process and it was ridiculous," he said.
"They have put out so much misinformation saying its dangerous and it will take $20 million to fix."


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