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St Girard’s Church in Wellington closed due to “safety concerns”; fate of earthquake-prone buildings remains unresolved

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After 113 years, St Girard’s Church – a familiar sight on the Wellington skyline – will retain its final Mass at the end of May as it closes due to “safety concerns” but the fate of the buildings remains unclear.

St Gerard Abbey and the church buildings are located above Oriental Bay, and are listed as heritage-listed. Owned by the International Catholic Evangelism Program (ICPE), the buildings are rated 25 percent by the New Zealand Building Standard. Anything less than 34 percent is considered earthquake susceptible.

Its owners attempted to raise money to bring the buildings back into the code, but by July 2020, they had raised only $ 42,000 of the $ 11 million needed. Understandably, the cost is now $ 13 million.

In a statement seen by Stuff about her recent mass, ICPE Mission New Zealand director Sylvana Abella said the church will be closed due to safety concerns.

Monique Ford / Staff

Heritage Listed St. Girard’s Abbey and church buildings are heritage-listed and rated 25 percent of the New Zealand Building Standard. (File photo)

Read more: * Troubled calls to the owners of the earthquake-prone St Girard Abbey in Wellington * Historic landmark Saint Gerrard opens its doors to Heritage Week * The Change Maker: A conversation with Cardinal John Dew about the Catholic Church’s future about the Church of the Angels reopening after the earthquake force of $ 9.5 million

His final service after 113 years will take place on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, and will be celebrated by the Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew.

The buildings were “yellow” after the Christchurch earthquake and although the monastery was built with some reinforcements in the aftermath of the Napier earthquake, the church did not have this.

“A large sum of money was needed to strengthen the earthquake in both buildings, and several attempts to find such amounts had failed,” Abela said in the statement.

KEVIN STENT / Stuff

St. Gerard’s Church will hold its last Mass at the end of May. (File photo)

Abela said the Covid-19 pandemic meant 2021 was the second year in a row for the ICPE Mission School, as missionaries and students abroad were unable to attend.

“At the same time, the reality of the large building that needs to be reinforced by a serious earthquake has led the ICPE mission to rethink our long-term presence in Wellington and consider new ways of having Christ in town.”

Cameron Purnell / Staff

The last Mass will take place at St Girard’s Church on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, and will be celebrated by Wellington Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal John Dio.

“The ICPE mission made this difficult decision, in consultation with the Archdiocese of Wellington, to close St Girard’s Church due to safety concerns,” the statement said.

“Both buildings have Class 1 New Zealand heritage classifications. The ICPE mission still has to decide their future.”

Wellington city councilor Iona Bennett, who carries the heritage building resilience portfolio at the council, said it will be a sad day for the community and mission, who have made the place their home.

She said the board had given funds from ICPE to promote seismic design in the past.

She said consolidation has been difficult for many earthquake-prone property owners who find it expensive.

“I love the building, it adds something to Wellington, the council has supported them but that won’t be enough,” said Bannett. I thought the costs of strengthening the buildings are likely to exceed $ 13 million.

Monique Ford / Staff

Chancellor Iona Panett says consolidation has been challenging for many earthquake-prone property owners who find it expensive to cover costs. (File photo)

Panett suggested that the church should not respect events such as weddings and funerals, and it might also be a suitable accommodation.

Wellington City Councilor Nicola Young, who has family ties to the church, said that St Girard’s Church was an important part of Wellington’s landscape.

“I feel relieved that the owners are realistic because strengthening both buildings would cost millions – it’s a huge seismic problem,” Young said.

She wanted to see the buildings salvaged and hoped that they would be converted into apartments or a hotel.

“It can be a great repurchase project but it’s a big project.”

Ross Giblin / Staff

Chancellor Nicola Young hopes that the church buildings will be converted into apartments or hotels. (File photo)

Wellington President, Head of Historic Places, Felicity Wong, said it was a tough time for Wellington’s built legacy.

Wong said that St Girard’s Church has a special place in Wellington’s landscapes and was an important heritage building.

“ICPE has taken care of this building, making it open and welcoming to Wellington residents.”

St Girard’s Church is not the only church in Wellington that has had to bear the costs of earthquake strengthening.

St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church on Bolcot Street reopened in 2017 after a $ 9.3 million upgrade to repair 10 columns, nine gates and roof.

MONIQUE FORD / STUFF

Father Barry Scannell, MNZM, led the seismic strengthening project for St Mary of the Angels Church in Wellington and raised $ 11 million. Church reopened for Easter 2017 (video first posted in 2018)

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