New Sarjeant timeline released – cost to rise by $9.4M

Published on 11 March 2022

Under tent canopy Feb 2022.jpg

The cost of the Sarjeant Gallery Redevelopment is projected to increase says Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall, mainly due to time delays that will push completion past March 2023 to the end of that year.

He says, “Earthquake-strengthening and restoring the 103-year-old heritage building itself has presented a number of challenges for the construction team. It’s a unique and iconic building that has to be handled with great care.”

Project director, Gaye Batty says steady progress has been made since the project commenced in late 2019. “There have been delays, but we have ensured wherever possible that we have kept the momentum going. There has been no idling.”

She says the project team has been monitoring delays and, with COVID-19 a significant factor, recently undertook a thorough evaluation of the current situation with quantity surveyors. “Checks and balances are regularly applied to the project and all parties involved are committed to a careful and transparent approach.”

At a workshop held with Whanganui District Council elected members, Gaye Batty revealed the increase would be approximately $9.4M. Including contingencies and all historic costs, the total cost of the project will now be $64.4M.

David Warburton, co-chair of the Sarjeant Gallery Redevelopment Advisory Committee, says while this is not good news for the project team or the community, it is in line with other projects that have had to manage the combined impact of COVID-19 on work time, staff availability and disruptions in the supply chain for building materials.

“In addition,” he says, “the unprecedented increases in material and equipment costs across the national construction industry have impacted on the project beyond the normal historic contingency allowances made for similar projects.”

Gaye Batty says the delays have been due to a number of unavoidable factors, including the complexity of the project in relation to the original Sarjeant Gallery building.

“Much of the work has to be undertaken sequentially, to ensure the stability of the Category 1 1919 gallery. Essentially one quadrant had to be completed to form a support system for the next to safeguard the old masonry walls and address soil conditions under the building, whereas the original plan was to work on them concurrently.” 

“The project team looked to find ways to make up the time lost on the heritage building, but at every turn the answer was always to take the slower, sequential route to ensure least risk to the fragile building foundations. It became inevitable that we must accept there was no solution to speed up or recover the time and we have pressed forward to bring about a realistic programme - to give certainty to the Sarjeant Gallery Redevelopment team and to the council and supporters.” 

And she says COVID-19 has played a part and continues to affect the project. “As everyone is aware, the pandemic has put pressure on the construction industry and over the last two years it has had an impact on this project.

She says, “It’s about maintaining cost disciplines and not letting what you cannot control affect what you can. We will be continuing the value engineering process to ensure every possible cost saving is considered.”

Nicola Williams, Sarjeant Gallery Trust Chairman says, “Along with everyone else I’m disappointed with the news, however not surprised given the current environment.

“But,” she says, “I assure the ratepayers of Whanganui that, once opened, the Sarjeant will be an outstanding regional facility. It will operate and deliver at the heart of our community and provide a vital contribution reputationally and financially. The Sarjeant will continue to draw in a growing number of visitors from around New Zealand - and delight and inspire our local citizens.”

Mayor Hamish says, “The task now is to minimise any impact on ratepayers, while recognising the immense value of this project to Whanganui.

“It’s important that the community knows that the only financial commitment Whanganui District Council has made to the project was $5M in 2015 through our long-term plan and a 2017 guarantee made to secure government funding.   

“That relatively small investment will prove to be highly worthwhile. In a purely economic sense, this project will see at least $10M go into the pockets of Whanganui contractors – that’s jobs for locals. It’s projected to attract 22,000 additional visitors to our district annually, generating $11.4M per year in additional regional spending.

“While these figures were calculated pre-COVID, the demand for arts tourism has not abated. Over the last year the Sarjeant on the Quay has had some of its highest visitor numbers ever and, just recently, Whanganui & Partners participated in the launch of a Coastal Arts Trail, in which the Sarjeant has a starring role.”

He says conversations are already happening with funding partners and a concerted drive to find the additional money is underway. “The restoration and redevelopment of the Sarjeant Gallery and the preservation of its collection for Whanganui is supported throughout New Zealand.”

To date, the Sarjeant Gallery development has received $40.M, or around 70% of its total funding, from various government funds. The funding is intended to support the economic growth of the region, and to boost the tourism sector in Whanganui.

Mayor Hamish says the council will have to look at funding a portion of the shortfall, but will do everything to bring funding into Whanganui from external sources. “The progress on this project to date has been exciting to observe and we look forward to celebrating the completion of this nationally significant project.”


Further information

The Sarjeant Gallery is anticipated to open in April 2024, which will allow four months for relocation of operations from the Sarjeant on the Quay - and installation of the opening exhibitions.

Where the funding has come from:

Fundraising support from the Gallery’s community of supporters across New Zealand


Whanganui District Council long-term plan commitment (as well as guaranteeing the project to secure central government funding)


Provincial Growth Fund


Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund


Ministry of Culture and Heritage

$10.0 M

Lottery Significant Projects Fund (DIA)


Lottery Environment and Heritage (DIA)


Total funding to date






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