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Council Demolition By Neglect Of Ponsonby Library?

Leys family matriarch 97 year old Vivienne Leys and her daughter Pippa were shocked when they visited the mothballed Ponsonby Library and Gymnasium (Leys Institute) last week.

Closed abruptly in December 2019, the buildings are awaiting seismic strengthening and restoration.

“The state of it made me so sad…it’s been forgotten”, said Vivienne.

Pippa Leys said “I believe the buildings are degrading and in grave danger. Our family gifted the buildings to the city, with properties and income for their upkeep. Council has a legal obligation to care for them.”

“There should be security cameras on the outside, it’s now a matter of urgency,” stated Pippa.

There have been recent incidents of copper theft and vandalism and it’s suspected that the library roof is leaking.

Built by the Leys family in 1905, the Leys Institute provided library and community spaces to Ponsonby, to benefit both “mind and body” continuously for 124 years. The buildings were gifted to the city by the Leys family in 1964, along with a considerable property portfolio to fund their upkeep.

According to the trust deed they cannot be sold or be used for any other purpose than a library and community space.

These nationally significant heritage buildings have the same heritage status as the Town Hall and the Art Gallery, for their historical and cultural values, as well as their architecture.

There has been four years of community consultation with the Waitemata Local Board and council staff, as well as council reports stating the buildings are fit for purpose for the expanding local population. The Local Board is selling three properties to contribute to the restoration costs.

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Locals thought the restoration was on track for later this year, with council staff working on plans and consents and engaging with an expert heritage architect.

Sadly, Friends of Leys Institute co-ordinator Helen Geary was informed last week that the entire project is on hold and no funding has been allocated.

“Mayor Wayne Brown called for spending on seismic upgrades of council properties to halt in the latest Long Term Plan and that’s what’s happened”, said Helen.

“It’s so short-sighted – the library must be upgraded eventually and the longer it’s left to deteriorate, the more expensive it will be to restore”.

“It’s not just about the buildings, Ponsonby has lost its meeting spaces for local groups such as U3A, my Book Chat group, the Leys Orchestra (since 1912), a film club, French club, homework clubs and many more groups using the gymnasium.”

Other organisations are also worried about the condition of the buildings – St Mary’s Bay Association, Civic Trust Auckland, the Waitemata Local Board and Heritage NZ have all contacted the council with concerns.

Friends of Leys Institute is requesting that the council governing body immediately allocate sufficient funds, along with the funding contribution by Waitemata Local Board, to strengthen and restore the heritage Leys Institute Library and Gymnasium.

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