Century of history wiped out

Churches accused of 'slack' attitude

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2014
Heritage advocates are mourning the loss of the 104-year-old St John’s Methodist Church in Hamilton East.

BEFORE DEMOLITION: Heritage advocates are mourning the loss of the 104-year-old St John’s Methodist Church in Hamilton East.

 St John’s Methodist Church
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
DEMOLISHED: The St John’s Methodist Church, on the corner of Grey St and Wellington St, was pulled down on Friday after an engineer’s report revealed it would collapse in an earthquake.

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Hamilton churches have been accused of having a "slack" attitude toward the city's heritage after a century-old chapel was demolished in Hamilton East.

St John's Methodist Church, on the corner of Grey and Wellington streets, was demolished on Friday after an engineer's report indicated the 104-year-old building could collapse in an earthquake.

A church member said the Methodist congregation kept the demolish plans low-key to avoid public opposition.

But the move has angered residents and heritage advocates who say the building was an irreplaceable link to Hamilton East's past.

Hamilton deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman, chairman of the council's heritage advisory panel, was alerted to the chapel's demolition late on Friday.

"Another member of the advisory panel . . . emailed me on Friday to ask did I know what was happening and the answer was I didn't.

"By the time I got down there, the bulldozer was in the final stages of pushing the rubble over," he said.

Chesterman has since emailed the council's city planning and environmental services general manager Brian Croad, asking why elected members were not told of the demolition consent. "In the past our staff have advised councillors of building consents or resource consents that might be considered sensitive," Chesterman said.

"My first reaction to the demolition was one of shock.

"This was a beautiful church and because of its location the church was a critical reminder of where Hamilton East came from."

Neville Jack, chairman of the Hamilton East Methodist parish council's property committee, said an engineer's report indicated the building was below the required standard of earthquake strength required under the Building Act.

The church had sat unused for the past two years.

"The building only met 17 per cent of the standard, whereas our own church requires it to meet 67 per cent," Jack said. Strengthening the building was estimated to cost $400,000.

A new church would be built on the site but costs and a construction timeline had not been determined.

"Building a new church will cost significantly more but it will be a significantly better building.

"It will be fully compliant with the Building Act, it will be insulated and it will suit the needs of the congregation," Jack said.

"There were those who wanted to save the old church but we followed a democratic process.

"But even among those who voted for demolition there was sadness when the building came down."

Jack said if the church had publicly notified the demolition, it ran the risk of rousing public opposition.

In reply, Chesterman said the church should have offered the building to someone for $1 to take away.

"Our churches in Hamilton have taken a real slack attitude to history.

"The Mormon Church is upsetting the community with their plans . . . and Euphrasie House is another case of: goodbye heritage, hello plastic building."

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Hamilton East Community Trust chairwoman Lois Livingston said she was appalled by the Methodist Church's actions and said tough questions needed to be asked of council staff.

"The community was kept completely in the dark and you have to say what is going on at Hamilton City Council's planning department.

"They're a law unto themselves."

Livingston said the trust had approached the Methodist Church previously when they heard the chapel could be pulled down.

"Under the last vicar there was talk the building could be demolished and we approached the church then, saying we could help them save the building because it's over 100 years old."

Hamilton man Les Vuletich attended the church as "a little fella" and was dismayed to find it gone.

Vuletich, who runs the Grey St Markets, said there had been no hint the building was about to be pulled down.

"To be honest I'm dumbfounded.

"Hamilton is losing too much of its heritage," Vuletich said.

"Soon anything historical will be gone."

aaron.leaman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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