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Historic Wellington building faces demolition

KERRY MCBRIDE
Last updated 16:27 23/03/2012
Erskine College

DOOMED: Historic Erskine College in Island Bay is facing demolition.

Erskine College
Alexander Turnbull Library/Reference Number: 1/1-002748-G
Sacred Heart Convent School (later known as Erskine College for Girls), Island Bay, circa 1900.

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Wellington's historic Erskine College could face demolition, with city council moving to red-sticker the historic Island Bay site next month.

Constructed in the early 1900s, the former Catholic school is listed as a Category One historic place by the Historic Places Trust, declaring it of 'special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value'.

As part of ongoing earthquake risk assessments, the popular function venue on Avon Rd has been orange stickered by Wellington City Council, sending a message to owners The Wellington Company that earthquake strengthening work or demolition needs to be considered.

But with a restoration bill likely to be millions of dollars, property manager for The Wellington Company Murray Anderson said the council would have to go ahead with red-stickering the century old property on April 15.

Red stickers from the council state that a site is unsafe for people to occupy.

"I think it's fair to say that we have absolutely no plans at all to do anything with the building at the moment because of the current market conditions. The building is going to have to be closed up."

With getting insurance on old buildings increasingly difficult, the Company had developed three or four separate restrengthening plans but the costs were restrictive, Mr Anderson said.

"At the moment we don't have too many options. We're not sitting still on this, but we're running out of choices."

But with Erskine also protected by a heritage order, any work to be carried out would need the written consent of its heritage protection authority, the Save Erskine College Trust.

Trust secretary Maggie Kennedy said they had not been notified by the council of the impending red stickering, which raised concerns about what The Wellington Company had planned for the site.

"We're concerned they want to demolish the main building to put cheek by jowl townhouses right under the chin of the chapel, which would completely crowd it out.

"We would say they need to rework their proposals. They only see one way out of all of this and that is townhouses, but they don't have the imagination for anything else."

The Trust would not approve demolition of either building, instead wanting The Wellington Company to consider other proposals such as a music school, Ms Kennedy said.

"They have had this idea floated to them, but they won't even think about it. That's wilful neglect really."

Erskine events manager Paula Bevege said a number of weddings had to be cancelled due to the impending red-stickering.

"The council was fantastic in arranging the date to be after our last booked wedding, but we have had to move a lot more to other venues.

"Erskine is a really special place and it's a shame to be losing access to it. Wellington has very few wedding venues and this will create a real hole in the wedding industry here."

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- The Dominion Post

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