11 Aug 2015

Trustees try to save capital's 'postcard' monastery

9:38 am on 11 August 2015

The trustees of one of Wellington's most historic buildings are going back to the drawing board to try to prove that it is not really dangerous, after all.

St Gerard's Monastery.

St Gerard's Monastery. Photo: Creative Commons

St Gerard's Monastery above Oriental Bay was yellow stickered after failing an earthquake test by a big margin.

The much-loved building, which features in many paintings and tourism photographs of the capital, must now be either strengthened or face the possibility of demolition.

But the trustees of the building think the earthquake-prone designation might be unfair, and are setting out to prove it.

The monastery's heritage status means demolition would be very hard to achieve.

Chairman of the monastery trust and former MP Gordon Copeland said the monastery and an adjacent church were judged well below the minimum percentage of allowable earthquake standards.

"They had the church at about 26 percent and the monastery at about 18 percent," he said.

"We have always been concerned that that estimate is wrong, and that is why we need to test it with another evaluation."

When the earthquake verdict came out and the building was yellow stickered, the trustees asked how much it would cost to strengthen the monastery.

They were given a quote of $10 million - far beyond their means.

They then went to the Lotteries Grants Board, but failed there.

Mr Copeland said the trustees were pinning their hopes on the chance that the original earthquake grading was wrong, and the monastery was stronger than was previously thought.

This is due to its similarity to a building in Christchurch.

"The High St Post Office in Christchurch which is built exactly the same as the monastery - with reinforced concrete - in the same year, 1932, after the Napier earthquake, is completely undamaged," he said.

Mr Copeland added the Christchurch building was built on a swamp whereas the monastery was built on Mt Victoria rock, and these facts give him some confidence that the building might really be above the minimum standards.

He said he would be delighted if the new evaluation granted him a reprieve.

If it did not, his committee would begin the laborious task of raising at least $3 million to meet the minimum requirement for lotteries assistance, or face the risk of demolition of the building by neglect.

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