Sign of times to have place in new building

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 19/12/2012

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A remnant of the formative years of Nelson firm Gibbons Construction and a link to the city's early automotive industry have been revealed during the demolition of a Halifax St building.

A large 12.5-metre by 3m mosaic tiled panel sporting the Lucas Batteries brand and logo was created by the construction firm's founder, Bill Gibbons, who laid the tiles in 1964.

Son Roger Gibbons, the governing director of Gibbons Construction, said the mosaic tiles were supplied by Lucas Batteries and imported from England pre-made into foot-square sheets then laid on the panel. The tiled slat was then raised aloft to take pride of place on the facade of the building.

Mr Gibbons said the Halifax St building was the first commercial building constructed by Gibbons as a joint venture between the firm and former Nelson sports announcer Alan Patterson.

It was built specially for Lucas Industries, which was in the business of supplying batteries to the former motor assembly industry in Nelson.

Mr Gibbons said he knew the mosaic was hidden behind a hoarding during a renovation of the building decades ago.

"I haven't seen the mosaic for 25 years or so. This was the first building built for a client by Gibbons, and I wanted to keep a part of it," Mr Gibbons said.

The mosaic will be lifted carefully off the last piece of the old building still standing, and placed on the new three-level building Gibbons Construction is to build on the site.

Roger Gibbons' son, Scott Gibbons, said the hand-painted tiles and the symbolic link to the company's history were too nice to destroy. The company was prepared to spend the time and money to preserve the relic.

The firm's general manager, Shane Trench, said the building facade was braced during demolition, while the team figured out how to safely remove the panel without damaging it. "It's a tricky job ahead. The mosaic is stuck in-situ on to a concrete wall."

The panel is 12.5m by 3m and 200 millimetres thick, which engineers have calculated to weigh between 19 and 21 tonnes.

Mr Trench said the challenge would be in removing it in a way that prevented it flexing, which would damage the tiles. A special frame would be built which would cradle the panel while it was lifted off by crane.

"We looked at other ways to take it off, but the risk was too great."

Mr Trench said they were now considering where to put the mosaic in the new building. Potential sites include along an internal access wall or embedded in the floor and glassed over.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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