Quake-damaged church to be demolished

By Paul Harper

The remains of St Paul's Trinity Pacific Church on Cashel Street, following the magnitude 6.3 earthquake which hit Christchurch on February 22. Photo / NZPA
The remains of St Paul's Trinity Pacific Church on Cashel Street, following the magnitude 6.3 earthquake which hit Christchurch on February 22. Photo / NZPA

The congregation of St Paul's Trinity Pacific Church on Cashel St have come to accept the reality - their 135-year-old church is no more.

On Friday the fate of the church - and some 184 other buildings damaged in the February 22 Christchurch earthquake - was decided.

Some will be made safe, but others, including St Paul's, are to be demolished.

Heritage buildings feature prominently on the list.

One, the Kenton Chambers on Hereford St, is among seven "critical buildings" - larger buildings that pose threats to other buildings and infrastructure.

Another 42 heritage buildings are set for demolition, nine more are down for partial demolition and six require work to be made safe.

St Paul's is one of a handful churches in the CBD on the list. The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on Barbadoes St faces partial demolition, while work is required on St Michael's on Oxford and Durham for it be made safe.

But the news for St Paul's is much more bleak.

The building's owner, the Presbyterian First Church Aotearoa New Zealand, has given permission for the building, built in 1876, to be torn down.

Work had began on refurbishing and earthquake strengthening the church only shortly before the February quake. Now, all that holds up the roof is the contractor's scaffolding.

Church elder and restoration project manager Les Bouterey said the four columns at the front of the building remain standing as does the north-east tower of the church, however the north-west tower came crashing down in the quake.

"The scaffolding on the inside is effectively keeping the roof up," Mr Bouterey said.

"It is too far damaged in the earthquake to consider doing any further work.

"[The tower] did have a one tonne lead dome on it - that dome has caused the damage."

That dome, however, is no longer on the site.

"We have a photo of the dome on the ground when [the earthquake] happened," he said.

"When we went around there on the 11th it had disappeared. Where has it gone?"

Mr Bouterey said the missing dome - worth around $80,000, has been reported to the police

Plans to refurbish the church began four years ago, however the work had frequently been held up.

An arson attack in August 2008 caused extensive damage to the interior of the church - totalling around $3 million.

"At that time we were ready to tender the contract," Mr Bouterey said.

"The fire held us back by 16 months."

After the 7.1-magnitude earthquake last September and the 4.9-magnitude Boxing Day quake, work was again held up as structural checks were undertaken.

Higgs Building Ltd was awarded the $2.41 million contract late last year and the church was due to reopen in November this year.

"They were pouring concrete to strengthen the towers [on the day of the earthquake]," Mr Bouterey said.

As a result, the contractors were having a late lunch that day and were not working on the church when the quake struck.

Mr Bouterey said Higgs is seeking a controlled demolition of the church so it can recover scaffolding from the site.

Few decisions have been made about the future of the site.

"We are not going to be rebuilding a church just like the one that has fallen," Mr Bouterey said.

"Our thoughts would be to see a community-based church event centre building on that same site."

He said no decision had been made as to whether the new building would incorporate any materials from the old church.

"There has been thought the four columns could be used but they are too damaged. Maybe the front of the new building could have four columns.

"Things like the timber trusses that could be recovered from a controlled demolition - they could be utilised, not necessary on our building but around the town."

The loss of the church had been hard for the whole community, particularly the church's mainly Pacific Island congregation, Mr Bouterey said.

"It's been a hard knock - I've been on this for four years.

"When we had the service in Hagley Park that was the time we effectively let go of what had happened in the past and started to look to the future."

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