Heritage shock ahead as old buildings go

GEOFF LEWIS
Last updated 09:31 23/07/2014
YWCA building
GEOFF LEWIS/Fairfax NZ

CITY HISTORY: Hamilton architect and heritage consultant Laura Kellaway outside the 102-year-old YWCA administration building. Its future appears to be uncertain.

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A Hamilton architect and heritage consultant believes the number of significant heritage buildings due to disappear around the city over the next few years will shock people.

Laura Kellaway, a member of the Hamilton City Council's advisory heritage council, made the comments after the demolition of the century-old St John's Methodist church building in Hamilton East this month - an event that went almost unnoticed until the site was levelled.

Older category 1 non-residential buildings are required to be brought up to a minimum of 34 per cent of the new building code by March 2019.

Hamilton has more than 60 buildings in this category and hundreds more in category 2, which are required to meet the standard by 2030.

The move is forcing many building owners, among them community service organisations, to reassess the viability and future of their older buildings.

The YWCA's headquarters on the corner of Pembroke St and Clarence St is an example of a building with an uncertain future. Originally built in 1912 as a private residence, the building was designed by Frederick Daniels, a noted Hamilton architect in the 1905 to 1920 period who was also responsible for the design of the Wesley Chambers - the Le Grand Hotel building - the Matangi Dairy factory and its nearby "seven sisters" workers' houses, and the St Andrews Presbyterian Church on the corner of River Rd and Te Aroha St, along with many private dwellings.

After an informal discussion last week, YWCA was invited to speak to Fairfax Media about the future of the building but backed out. However, Fairfax understands that the YWCA has spent thousands of dollars on an engineering report and the building is far from the minimum 34 per cent.

Manager Anne Bennett said the building was old, hard to heat, and its services were near the end of their useful life. The YWCA's primary purpose was to provide services for young women, not to keep obsolete buildings standing. The building was also on a valuable site near the city centre.

After three years of fund raising, YWCA had seismically strengthened the adjacent 1926 Te Whare Wahine chapel in 2011.

Bennett said community organisations in old buildings needed to be pragmatic when it came to deciding their future.

An example of what could be done could be seen in the redevelopment of the Presbyterian site in Te Aroha St, which now has a modern complex, she said.

Kellaway, who returned to Hamilton in December after three years' teaching degree-level architecture in Christchurch, said the irony was that despite the severity of the Christchurch earthquakes, no-one was killed as a result of the collapse of a historic building.

Although the Government had strengthened the requirements for earthquake-prone buildings, it had not provided resources to help building owners. There needed to be greater support to help the owners cope with the costs of things such as engineering reports, she said.

The moves also called into question the future of far more recent buildings, including those constructed from the 1940s to the 1970s.

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Hamilton deputy mayor, and fellow member of the city's heritage council, Gordon Chesterman, said the Government had imposed earthquake building standards on the whole country. This would have a profound effect on the owners of older buildings and he could see some buildings being sold for well below valuation because their owners could not afford to bring them up to standard.

The cost of demolition would also be beyond the means of some owners.

- Waikato Times

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