WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Churches bounce back from quake reports

Features

Derek Johnson
30 August 2012

Some parishes are rejoicing as they return to churches which have been reassessed as safe after being initially deemed an earthquake risk.

More than 25 Wellington churches have been assessed as prone to earthquake damage but some have had more detailed, favourable assessments.

Lower Hutt
Parish priest of Ss Peter and Paul Lower Hutt Fr Bruce England says the church closed at Easter on an initial rating of just 11 percent of new building standard (NBS).

This was a shock, he says but the parish was soon overwhelmed by goodwill from neighbouring churches. Easter ceremonies were celebrated in St Bernard’s College gymnasium for which the parishioners had to remove their shoes.

Fr Bruce says this will be remembered long after the stress of the closure is forgotten.
The parish then moved to St James Anglican Church for several weeks until a detailed assessment gave the church a higher percentage according to the rigorous building code, most recently strengthened in 2005.

Fr Bruce says this involved invasive work that examined the church’s structure. At 54 percent east/west and 60 percent north/south, the church is no longer classed as earthquake prone. The parish breathed its relief and moved back in on July 28.

However, strengthening work will continue to bring the church closer to 100 percent NBS; the presbytery remains closed.

Upper Hutt
Meanwhile in Upper Hutt, St Joseph’s church was initially assessed as 12 percent NBS.

Finance committee chair Mike Williams says the parish leadership team commissioned a detailed report. which put the structure at 100 percent NBS in the transverse and 80 percent longitudinally.

In the three weeks the church was closed, the parish used St Peter Chanel in Brown Owl, which had been closed for more than a decade.

Project Stronger’s caution
San Antonio church in Eastbourne was initially evaluated as needing some remedial work and their report is being peer reviewed, but the parish has decided to continue to use the church. However, lay pastoral leader Sharon Penny says the neighbouring school has stopped taking pupils into the church.

In response to the Canterbury earthquakes, the archdiocese set up Project Stronger.

It plans to investigate the seismic strength of parish and archdiocesan buildings, identifying options to remedy, renovate or restrict the use of those that do not meet appropriate standards, and securing insurance cover. (Premiums have almost doubled for many church buildings.)

According to the Project’s website, consulting structural and civil engineers Clendon Burns & Park have been engaged to review the local council and geotechnical information for each building and its site and examine data gained from site visits.

Project Stronger may then recommend a building rated at below 67 percent NBS in the initial evaluation report be given a detailed assessment, to show how its structure might be improved.

A building with an NBS of 33 percent or less is considered earthquake prone; between 34 and 66 percent is considered an earthquake risk.

The future…
Fr Bruce says parishioners are keen to maintain links made during this journey with St Bernard’s College, Sacred Heart, Petone, and St James Anglican church. ‘St James rescheduled their own services to allow our parish to celebrate Mass’.