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Parishioners ‘home’ after seismic work

Liki Udam Aug 8
Parishioners ‘home’ after seismic work
Seismic strengthening has brought St Mary of the Angels catholic church in Wellington to close to 100 per cent of the building code. Work on the Gothic Revival church took over four years to complete at a cost of $9.5 million.

After a $9.5m seismic strengthening project St Mary of the Angels catholic church in Wellington looks pretty much unchanged.

It’s testament to a huge amount of effort that has gone into strengthening the historic building to ensure it is safe and preserved for future generations.

During the 2013 Seddon 6.5 earthquake the church was full of parishioners,which really brought home the urgency of ensuring the building was brought up to current earthquake standards, says parish priest Father Barry Scannell.

“We had been working on proposals to strengthen the church for some years but this made us decide to close the church and undertake a detailed engineering assessment,” he says.

Father Barry credits parishioner Brian McGuinness, managing director of construction company LT McGuinness Ltd, as an integral part of the success of the project.

After having completed works on the church for decades prior, as well as being an active member, Brian had a unique understanding of both the building and the church and its needs to undertake these extensive building works, says Father Barry.

Prior to its strengthening, engineering consultants assessed the church to meet only 15 to 20 per cent of the New Building Standards.

The Church is now close to 100% with the only visible signs of the work that has taken place being a shear wall at the front and back of the church.

The huge project was undertaken in two stages – stage one was the foundation work and shear walls and stage two the portals and roof.

New foundation beams were introduced beneath new concrete shear walls and piles tied the beams to bedrock.

A new concrete floor slab, with integral tie beams between the existing portal frames, has replaced the existing floor.

Above floor level, concrete shear walls were installed to the front and rear of the nave and also around the side chapel walls.

The nave columns to the side chapels have been wrapped in carbon fibre to increase their strength.

At ceiling level the existing portals have been replaced with new concrete portals connected with steel beams running the length of the building.

Above the existing ceiling, cross-bracing has tied the portals together.

A new copper roof has replaced the existing roof along with a new gutter and downpipe system.

High degrees of craftsmanship have been required, says Father Barry, including crafting new columns, portals and arches.

The whole building was laser scanned and moulds made to perfectly replicate original details. Located on Boulcott Street, the church was
first opened on 26 March 1922.

Designed by well-known architect Frederick de Jersey Clere, a specialist in the Gothic revival style, the church is of particular interest architecturally as it was the first time ferro-concrete was used for a church of Gothic design.

After navigating the difficulties of raising the funds for the project and operating from various temporary locations for over four years while the works took place the church was re-opened on Holy Thursday prior to Easter.

“I used the metaphor that as we celebrated the resurrection of Easter this has been the resurrection of St Mary of the Angels,” says Father Barry Scannell. “It’s fantastic that we are back home.”


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