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Nelson was rightly in celebration mode over the weekend for the opening of the $9.5m refurbishment and strengthening of our School of Music.

I am in awe of our pioneers who established the school in 1894. It was a first for New Zealand. It set Nelson apart so early in our history as a city of culture and creativity.

The original 500 seat auditorium was opened in 1901 by Lady Ranfurly. Thomas Cawthron donated the organ in 1913. The Rainey House extension was added in 1966 and the Kidson Building in 1971. Murray and Jocelyn Sturgeon generously donated the Steinway piano in 2009. It was a blow for our musical community when the building had to be closed in 2013 due to earthquake risk.

Heritage buildings can be a nightmare to refurbish. Too often we defer so long that demolition becomes inevitable. We lost the beautiful architecture and heritage of Nelson’s Provincial Chambers in the 1960s out of neglect.

I am pleased to have helped secure direct Government funding support of $1.5 million as well as contributions from the Rata Foundation of $850,000 and Lotteries of $1.2 million. The Nelson Council provided $3.3 million with the balance from the School of Music and community fundraising.

I am not surprised the cost of the project stretched by about a million dollars as nasty surprises were found during the restoration. The core architectural features have been retained but the building has been made much more usable for modern performances. It has gone from one of our most dangerous buildings in an earthquake to one of our safest.

The benefits of this refurbished building are educational, cultural and economic. The educational gain is that it will support a new generation of musical talent.  The cultural gain is the hundreds of future musical performances we Nelsonians will get to enjoy in this historic venue with superb acoustics. The economic gain for Nelson is being able to host events like the 2019 International Adam Chamber Music Festival that brings millions in visitor spending to our region.

I pay tribute to the School of Music team, particularly Chair Roger Taylor, fundraising lead Colleen Marshall and former director Bob Bickerton, along with the Nelson City Council and hundreds of volunteers and supporters. We should also take pride in the local skills we have in firms like Irving Smith Architects and Coman Construction that successfully delivered this complex project.

Nelson is incredibly blessed to have three iconic arts facilities with our Theatre Royal, Suter Art Gallery and School of Music, each amongst the oldest in New Zealand.

I gave a speech to Nelson Rotary a decade ago worried that all three faced an uncertain future without major upgrades and set an ambition for each of them to be progressively refurbished. It is an incredible achievement to have all three done. It shows what is possible when Government, Council and community work together.

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