Revealed: Scott Base rebuild cost comes with warnings over project size and scale

The rebuild of Scott Base in Antarctica is set to cost taxpayers $357 million, Newshub can reveal.

The difficult construction job will begin in New Zealand before it's shipped to the Antarctic. Three new buildings will be shipped there before they're rolled onto the ice at Ross Island.

"We are intending to build it in New Zealand. One of the benefits of that is that the public can come and have a look at it before we send it south," says Antarctica NZ senior project manager Simon Shelton.

Antarctica New Zealand's business case for the redevelopment, obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act, says if it doesn't get a new base, we could lose our presence on the ice completely. This would happen at a time when other nations are upping their investment. 

"We believe it's really important to maintain those diplomatic ties," Shelton says.

The business case says "there is continued deterioration of the Scott Base assets and the need to replace them has become more urgent and critical".

It also raises concern over the safety of staff stationed there during the harsh winter months.

"You're here living and working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while you're here," says Scott Base winter leader Kitty Niven.

Scientists on the ground say cladding is leaking, and engineers have to crawl through hatches to access some buildings. 

"We're seeing failures in the base that we have to send more people down to fix, that costs more and ultimately that means we can't support science in the way that we want to or the way that we need to," Shelton says.

But building in these conditions will be no easy feat. A temporary base will need to be built to safely house up to 160 people for three years, including construction workers.

Leighs Construction, based in Christchurch, is the preferred builder for the job, but they haven't secured the Government contract just yet. 

"We are very, very keen to secure this," says Anthony Leighs of Leighs Construction.

Leighs has done all the planning work up to now, and have upgraded Scott Base many times before, so they know what they're in for.  

"It's a large and complex project with significant challenges and significant risks which we'll need to manage," Leighs says.

Newshub can reveal some of those serious risks. They include the buildings possibly being damaged on the voyage to the Antarctic, or a huge iceberg getting in the ship's way of accessing the base. 

While they're unlikely to happen, Antarctica New Zealand says insuring against them would be uneconomical, so in a worst-case scenario taxpayers could have to foot the bill. 

But after 40 years of their iconic green buildings, our Antarctic experts say the warmth will be worth it.