No Change in Christchurch Cathedral's Fate

The Anglican diocese's Cathedral Project Group recently rejected a proposal to restore the structure, saying it is not a safer option.

Since a February 2011 earthquake caused major destruction in downtown Christchurch, New Zealand, the Anglican diocese there has planned to demolish its damaged 130-year-old cathedral. The diocese's Cathedral Project Group now has kept to that plan, rejecting an outside panel of structural engineers group’s recommendation to restore the building, citing safety and cost.

Bishop Victoria Matthews announced the decision Aug. 2, saying, "The Cathedral Project Group has worked hard considering the [Independent Panel of Structural Engineers’] report.... We have found it is not a safer option. It does not provide any greater protection to the heritage of the building, and it is an expensive option." Diocesan officials said the group's report supports previous engineering studies that found the cathedral was severely damaged and cannot be left in its existing condition.

The Great Christchurch Building Trust, chaired by former MPs Jim Anderton and Philip Burdon, released a report in July claiming "maximum retention" was feasible with no safety risks. The Cathedral Project Group said its engineers and quantity surveyors reported:

  • The report did not offer any new structural engineering options that have not already been considered by the diocese.
  • If strengthened as proposed by the report, the cathedral can achieve a high degree of seismic protection, but it would never achieve the same level of functional performance as a rebuilt cathedral.
  • The Cathedral Project Group has been advised that it will be safer to dismantle the cathedral than it will be to strengthen it in place.
  • The methodology proposed by the report cannot practically achieve full protection of workers on the project. In addition, the proposed shoring method "may achieve a high degree of protection of the remaining building during restoration, but at considerable expense."
  • It will cost $15 million more to strengthen the building than to dismantle it and rebuild a replica.
  • A very long-term restoration project could turn Cathedral Square into a construction site for many years.

"The Cathedral Project Group has repeatedly said that we do not want to build a replica, but rather a mix of old and new. A renewed ancient vision that does reflect our past but also looks to our future," Matthews said. "This approach is also more realistic in the current financial climate. We are currently testing design budgets, and as soon as we know how much we can spend to build an inspirational building that gives glory to God, we will be releasing that figure. It will be substantially less than $100 million."

The Cathedral Project Group is working on a concept design for the new cathedral, and the diocese hopes to publicize designs before the end of 2012. Meanwhile, a transitional cardboard cathedral is under construction and should be completed by Christmas 2012, according to the diocese.

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