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Attempts to be made to save nave of Catholic Cathedral

Attempts to be made to save nave of Catholic Cathedral

After four years of extensive testing, modelling, designing and peer reviewing, the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch believes it can save the nave of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and plans to progressively build back over the next decade or more parts that have to be deconstructed.

Bishop Barry Jones has accepted a recommendation from the Cathedral Management Board to apply for a Section 38 notice under the CER Act to partially deconstruct areas of the Cathedral that are damaged beyond viable repair in order to take all reasonable steps to retain the nave of the church.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is registered as Category 1 with Heritage New Zealand and as a Group 1 building in the Christchurch City Plan. It is recognised as the finest renaissance-styled building in Australasia, is listed as having international and national significance.

Lance Ryan, chairman of the Cathedral Management Board, said that by carefully deconstructing badly damaged parts of the church around the nave, engineers would then be able to get inside the nave itself and undertake an indepth study of the state of the nave and condition of the land on which it is built.

“Those studies could then reveal if the nave is too badly damaged to be saved, or the ground conditions too unsuitable, and in that case we would have no option but to move to a full demolition of the Cathedral.

“However, from what we have been able to ascertain, we believe that the beautiful nave can be saved,” he said.

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Throughout the assessment process, the Cathedral Management Board has consulted extensively with Heritage New Zealand, CERA, the City Council and many others.

“There was a long period last year where we thought the only viable option would be a complete demolition, but we were always mindful of the Bishop’s desire to save the Cathedral if viably possible.”

Keith Beal, Property and Development Manager for the Diocese, said that the Cathedral is central to the Diocese’s overall earthquake recovery plan.

“Having certainty over the Cathedral allows the rest of the rebuild programme to commence in earnest, something the whole Diocese is keen to progress.

“Bishop Barry was always insistent that the Cathedral was to be included in the overall repair and rebuild programme for the Diocese, and not a standalone project. Of the 426 buildings in the Diocese, there are 243 school buildings, 163 parish buildings and 20 others. There are 78 churches, of which 13 are heritage buildings, including seven Category I buildings. In total, there are 33 schools,” he said.

The Diocese received a global insurance settlement of $107 million of which $73 million was for its churches. These funds have been pooled for the greater good in order to ensure there is enough to fund the recovery of the entire Diocese with $45 million being set aside for the Cathedral Precinct. Insurance payments aside, the Diocese believes that over the next 10 years it will need to fund raise a total of $28 million to cover all its rebuilding and repair work. It aims to do this via an international fundraising campaign targeting large global philanthropic foundations and funds.

Lance Ryan said that the very early costings to replace the Cathedral with a ‘like for like’ came out at about $110 million.

“The cheapest option was to just demolish the Cathedral and start afresh sometime in the future when we had attended to many of the other buildings, churches and schools in the Diocese.

“We also looked at options to retain parts of the Cathedral such as the north wall as a relic, or use the footprint of the demolished church to form a relic garden but they did not sit easy with us and with the parties that we consulted.

“It was during our wide consultation process that we sat down with Sir Miles Warren and he revisited an earlier idea that we looked at which involved saving the nave. Sir Miles put forward a plan that was more brutal than anything previously considered but showed how it would be possible to deconstruct the badly damaged areas around it and then build back a sanctuary, narthex and transepts at a later date when the budget and fundraising allowed.

“In his words, the real beauty of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is the inside and the most beautiful part of the inside was the public area, the nave.”

Keith Beal said that that was late last year and since then extensive financial modelling had been carried out on both this concept and the rebuild and repair timetable across the entire Diocese.

“Originally we looked at every realistic option for the Cathedral. In the end we had a short list of four (see example below) and the ‘retain nave’ option achieved consistently strong scores throughout all stages, with the highest for heritage and community acceptance,” he said.

Lance Ryan said that the Diocese is committed to do all it reasonably can to save the nave. “While careful deconstruction may be the more expensive option, it allows us to take a really good look and confirm what we are all convinced is possible.

“We will, of course, continue to salvage and record precious artefacts as we progress, just as we did when making the building safe. Although these costs could reach $6 million, we feel this is a fantastic opportunity to retain a major part of this beautiful cathedral and one we believe will generate a lot of fundraising support.”

The Diocese has put a cap of $45 million on the project (this includes costs of deconstruction) and is looking to fund raise as part of this total. The project plans to restore the nave in the first phase of work, followed by the addition of a new sanctuary, with future phases adding a new narthex (entrace area and lobby), transepts (a wider cross section at the head of the nave) and possibly a bell tower(s). In total, it will take a minimum of four years from when work begins to get to this stage.

Once the deconstruction has been completed and a full investigation undertaken of the nave and the ground conditions, the Diocese will be in a better position to consult more widely on the future of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.


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