Church should heed its own

Last updated 12:00 22/05/2009

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OPINION: The wheels have been moving slowly. Last July, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints announced it would demolish most of the buildings at its Church College Temple View site on Hamilton's outskirts. In September it ran into opposition from Hamilton City Council, which said it would consider a change to its district plan to bring in extra protection for heritage buildings.

Months later, discussions involving the city council, church leaders and the Historic Places Trust continue.

Meanwhile, the church has pulled back from its application for demolition, which would probably involve public submissions.

Whatever is going on behind the scenes, the church's public comments show little sign of buying into preservation.

This week it claimed the need for earthquake strengthening, along with other upgrading and maintenance, would cost it tens of millions.

Last year a planning consultant, speaking on behalf of the church, expressed disbelief over the possible historic value of the buildings.

"That it was even considered that institutional buildings dating back to the 1950s were heritage items was met with what I would call some puzzlement," he said.

The church hierarchy argues that it is the people who matter, rather than the buildings. That doesn't seem to wash with its own community.

A poll conducted by a Temple View member and released to the Waikato Times this week showed 85 per cent of respondents, almost all of whom were Mormons, believed some buildings at the site had historic significance and should be retained.

The poll is hardly scientific, but can be taken as a good gauge of feeling.

The Mormon church is most visible for its missionaries as they cycle around the cities of the world. That denotes the emphasis it places on gaining converts and boosting its flock.

The Church College buildings at Temple View are testament to how successful it has been at doing just that. But they are also becoming a symbol of its disregard for its people once it has them safely in the fold. The church could take a completely different tack on this.

Its scepticism over the architectural merits of the buildings is understandable but it could set out to preserve them based on the wishes of its community.

A leading city architect this week described the buildings as an internationally important example of American post-war modernism and part of Hamilton's coming of age.

That may not be immediately obvious to laypeople, who are unlikely to give the buildings a second glance as they drive past, with the exception of the dominating temple itself.

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So how important is it that they are preserved?

That's the question the city council must grapple with. It seems likely a subject of the discussions currently being held revolve around cost.

A key issue is likely to be what financial assistance the council offers the church should the buildings get protection. At that point, ratepayers may be asked to chip in.

If that happens, the council will have some convincing to do.

- Waikato Times

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