Plan to demolish Euphrasie House

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2012
Sacred Heart High School
Fairfax NZ

Under threat: Euphrasie House, built in 1939, could soon be demolished as the cost of earthquake-proofing the building would be too high.

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A community group is fighting to keep an old Hamilton East building from being demolished to make way for a modern diocesan centre.

Euphrasie House was built in 1939 as a convent and used as a hostel for students at Sacred Heart Girls' College until it closed last year.

The Catholic diocese bought the building and is planning to demolish it after a report found the cost of earthquake-proofing to be too costly.

Hamilton East Community Trust chairwoman Lois Livingston is outraged at the church's decision and wants the building saved.

"I am angry and frustrated that the Catholic Church would even think of doing such as thing," she said. "It's a huge piece of Hamilton's history."

In the application for resource consent, church officials want the council-designated heritage building pulled down to make way for "a new two-storey building to be used as the diocesan centre."

The St Mary's Chapel is protected under the New Zealand Historic Places trust and will be quake-proofed.

"It is a building that you don't see anywhere else in New Zealand. It is like a Spanish convent. It's kind of iconic which means it has national status and significance."

The trust advocates for the protection of heritage buildings in the suburb and Ms Livingston said demolishing Euphrasie would destroy an "integral part of the history of Hamilton East".

"This was the Catholic centre of Hamilton since the 1870s when the sisters first arrived. We have really worked hard in Hamilton East to retain what heritage we have got left," she said.

Diocese general manager Greg Schmidt said they have done all they can to save the building and the decision to remove the building had been "extremely tough" to make.

"We have engineers' reports which are expensive and for us to strengthen and to bring Euphrasie House up to modern building code would cost us over $5 million," he said.

Two of the properties are a major earthquake risk and the church will spend about $400,000 on strengthening the convent chapel next to Euphrasie House.

They have consulted with churchgoers and neighbours. The Historic Places Trust has not objected to the decision, Mr Schmidt said.

The church will be fundraising to bring the chapel up to standard.

In place of Euphrasie House the diocese will build a new centre for the Catholic community. "It is going to be a multi-purpose building meeting the needs of the bishop and the diocese."

With Marian Catholic School, the Cathedral and Sacred Heart Girls' College across the road and the Mission Sisters next door the new centre will be well used.

"It is right in the middle of a lot of Catholic mission activities . . . so it will be well used by the wider Catholic community."

It was sad to see Euphrasie House go but the former convent and hostel had had their day, Mr Schmidt said.

"We have been getting reports for close on a year and consulting with the neighbours but the reality is we haven't got the funds and the building is a major earthquake issue.

"I certainly wouldn't let my children go in there."

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- Waikato Times

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