$10m renewal for heritage building

HISTORICAL HALLMARK: Building owner Maurice Clark, left, and Ministry for Culture and Heritage chief executive Lewis ...
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ

HISTORICAL HALLMARK: Building owner Maurice Clark, left, and Ministry for Culture and Heritage chief executive Lewis Holden say the building's architecture and internal fittings are too important to Wellington not to strengthen.

The quake-damaged landmark Old Public Trust Building in Wellington's Lambton Quay is about to get a $10 million restoration and become the new home of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

The ministry is taking a 15-year lease on four floors, which will help underwrite the cost of strengthening the quake-prone building, which has been vacant since the 6.5-magnitude earthquake in July 2013.

Ministry chief executive Lewis Holden said the category-one heritage-listed building was "a good fit for the ministry in its role as guardian of New Zealand's culture and kaitiaki of New Zealand's taonga".

The ministry's 120 staff are expected to move in once work is completed in October.

The redevelopment is being done by Maurice Clark, managing director of McKee Fehl Constructors, who bought the building a few months after the 2013 earthquakes cracked plasterwork.

The previous owners, including Creative New Zealand, put it up for sale because they did not want to get involved in a major strengthening and repair project.

Clark said it needed huge foundation works, with new piles being sunk to 15 metres. It also needed new shear walls, and wooden floors would have to be replaced with concrete to stiffen the structure.

All the building's historical features - such as its ornate exterior and entrance lobby circular stairs - would be retained.

The ministry would lease the top four floors and he hoped to get a restaurant into the grand hall space on the ground floor.

Former Architecture Centre president Guy Marriage said the Old Public Trust, designed by government architect John Campbell, was one of the city's finest old buildings, ranking alongside Old St Paul's, and was one of the very few grade-one listed buildings in the capital.

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The baroque-style building, completed in 1909 "is without doubt in my mind John Campbell's finest work outside of his design for Parliament House". Marriage said Campbell's design became the semi-official style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout the country.

It is also New Zealand's first steel-framed building, and this was undoubtedly a factor in its long-lived success.

 - The Dominion Post

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