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WelCom Article - Cathedral Update March 2022

The challenges of a major restoration

WelCom March 2022 Annette Scullion When Jane Kelly moved to Thorndon, she was delighted to join Sacred Heart Cathedral parish just around the corner on Hill St. She was married…

WelCom March 2022

When Jane Kelly moved to Thorndon, she was delighted to join Sacred Heart Cathedral parish just around the corner on Hill St. She was married in the cathedral in 2004 and loves the building. Little did Jane imagine that 17 years later she would be leading the cathedral’s major restoration and refurbishment work as project architect. WelCom talks with Jane about the project journey.

‘When I arrived in the parish, I loved the community here and got involved in the liturgy. The parish committee discovered I was an architect and said, “Ok, you need to come onto our Resource committee”.’ That was in 2007.

By 2011 the building exterior required significant maintenance and repair work. For example, the Oamaru stone on the outside of the building doesn’t like Wellington’s wind and rain, especially the north-west wind going around the building wearing the stone away. The paint on the outside and inside walls traps the moisture, which doesn’t allow the stone to breathe.

‘On the committee I talked about getting heritage Architects to look at the building. We selected Salmon Reed Architects in Auckland, as they had done the previous round of restoration work. My first involvement as a committee member was liaising with the Architects.

‘Salmon Reed prepared documentation for the work involved but when this was tendered the work cost more than we had anticipated, so our initial plans for the much-needed maintenance work were stymied,’ says Jane. ‘But by 2016, the repair work required was becoming very obvious, so the committee decided to proceed with the work, estimated at $1m.’

Before work began, the committee wanted to check for earthquake strengthening needs. They approached structural and design engineers Dunning Thornton in Wellington. Their report and subsequent investigations concluded the cathedral was under 33% of the NBS, making it an earthquake-prone building.

The parish committee make the tough call to close the cathedral building immediately and establish an alternative location for parishioners.

The committee prioritised getting the repairs and building strengthening underway. Jane started working with the Engineers as they developed a strengthening solution. What had started out as some major repair and maintenance work became a serious structural project. The committee knew they had to get a professional Architect involved.

Brick and stone was not Jane’s specialty. For most of her 30-year career she had worked in timber, concrete and steel, and smaller types of buildings, but she was keen to get involved professionally as the Project Architect. ‘I was keen as it’s a beautiful building which I love. I regularly work in collaboration with other Architects around the country and knew I could call on the expertise of others, particularly for knowledge on the repairs to the heritage stonework.’

Jane put a proposal to the parish that she would step off the committee and work as the Project Architect with her practice, Team Architects. ‘I worked with Dunning Thornton to develop the solution to restore the building’s heritage elements and still give us the strength the building needed.’

The work, to be done in stages, would be mainly structural with some elements of architecture. It would involve major restrengthening of the roof, repairs and paint removal from the exterior and interior stone walls, restored copper cladding, repainting the interior walls and ceiling with lighter colours to enhance the natural light, and installing new carpets, lighting and fixtures.

‘Once the structural work is completed, the building will be 50% of NBS,’ Jane says.

In late 2018, the first step temporary bracing was put in place. Blue strops were installed down the side of the building so the newer adjacent building, with the foyer and chapel, could be used while the long-term work on the cathedral building was carried out.

In early 2020, with the plan ready, work began. During lockdown, the government’s shovel-ready project came into place, which provided a further $8m for the project. The Wellington City Council also came on board with $120k.

‘This allowed us to complete the strengthening work and begin the exterior restoration, which stone masons are working on now. And it would allow us to do base isolation in the longer term.

‘Because the main cathedral building is connected to the chapel and foyer building, the costs for doing the base isolation work – $13m – are prohibitive right now. However, the preliminary design for this body of work is completed and can be picked up when the budget is available, say in 5, 10, or 15 years.’

Fundraising during the Covid environment has been difficult ‘so we have to work within the funding available’ Jane says. ‘Covid has also meant delays in getting materials. It’s been very challenging.

‘The funds raised have allowed us to commit to repair and restore the south and east faces but not the west and north faces at this stage. But we can open the restored cathedral while work is being completed on the outside.’

Jane says her role has been that of facilitator and finding the right people to find the right solutions. ‘My job is to bring them in and let them do their work. It’s been a real team project. From Dunning Thornton, through to LT McGuinness with all their subcontractors, everyone is giving 100 per cent and more to get the cathedral restoration completed.

‘Our engineers Dunning Thornton have done a great job on the structural work. The external repair work has involved Paul Cummack, a local specialist Conservation Architect with plenty of Oamaru-stone experience. Paul is giving us wonderful advice and guiding us well.

‘Structurally, the work is almost completed. Right now, we are doing the interior refurbishment, removing the heavy pink paint, installing new lighting, new grey and gold carpet, and we’ll be putting lighter paint on some walls and fixtures, such as original ornate tin tiles on the ceilings.

‘This building interior is about light but some of the previous colours have been too dark to let you appreciate that light and once the work is completed it will feel so different.’

The cathedral interior work is expected to be completed later this year and opened for parishioners to return while the exterior work continues.

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