Scientology's $16m statement church

18:47, Nov 24 2013
whitecliffe
The former Whitecliffe Art School in Grafton, Auckland. Its owner, the Church of Scientology, has resource consent for it

The Church of Scientology of New Zealand will make a $16 million "statement" restoring and converting a heritage-listed Auckland building into its flagship church.

The local arm of the controversial religion purchased the former Whitecliffe Art College campus in 2007 for $10m borrowed interest-free from the Church of Scientology International. It is the church's only New Zealand property.

The church, which counts actor Tom Cruise among its parishioners, said it's nearing construction on the Grafton site that includes major seismic strengthening and a new fitout.

Church of Scientology New Zealand head Mike Ferriss told the Sunday Star-Times the cost of the restoration was $16m.

More than $3.5m had been raised mostly from the church's 5000 local members, Ferriss said, but scientologists around the globe including expat Kiwis would contribute.

Non-members who wanted to see the building restored had also donated, he said.

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The 2006 census counted 357 Kiwi scientologists; meaning each would need to donate more than $44,000 to reach the $16m target.

The church's annual accounts for the year ending December 2012 showed donations were down more than $170,000 to $245,253.

It booked $1.18m from members in advance payments. The church had about $300,000 in the bank and owed its international office more than $8.6m, reporting a $2m deficit.

The "huge" project is estimated to take around 12 months of construction, Ferriss said.

New Zealand's top scientologist said the condition of the building when the church purchased it was not good.

"We will save this building. There's no question about it."

The Oamaru sandstone facing the building's entranceway and windows is in need of repair.

Ferriss said internally the major work would be tying joists to the walls to give the building the ability to move laterally in an earthquake. Floors will be overlaid with ply and ceilings may need repairing too, he said.

Some walls may need additional strengthening, he said.

The church has resource consent to disseminate the "applied philosophy" of church founder and pulp fiction writer L Ron Hubbard from the site.

A building consent application is with its head office in the US pending final sign-off and will then be lodged with the Auckland Council, Ferriss said.

Once complete the 11,000 square metre site will have more than 70 rooms dedicated to spreading Scientology's message.

The prominent site will have a chapel, library, reception and waiting area, offices for upper management, public display areas, a cafe, courtyard and rooms for the church's one-on-one counselling called auditing.

The Auckland restoration is part of an international programme by the church to boost its presence with high-profile churches called Ideal Orgs.

"What we are essentially doing is like the Church of Scientology putting down roots. We have been around for 60 years; this is a statement. This is us. This is where you can find us," Ferriss said.

When asked if Tom Cruise was likely to come to the opening of the restored church, Ferriss laughed and said: "It doesn't always default to Tom Cruise."

Sunday Star Times