The 103-year-old cathedral presbytery in Hamilton is to be demolished, probably to be replaced by a new presbytery and diocesan pastoral centre.The planned demolition has earned the ire of a local heritage group, with the Waikato Times also criticising the move. At the same time, the regional newspaper has conceded that the city had the chance to protect the presbytery.

In an opinion piece, it quoted architectural historian, Ann McEwan, pointing out that if Hamilton City Council had taken the time and effort, together with a little funding to review the District Plan heritage schedule, instead of just simply rolling it over, the presbytery could have been added to the heritage listing and afforded formal protection.

“It wasn’t done. Best efforts were not made by those we elected to preserve our cultural heirlooms,” the paper stated.

Deacon Peter Richardson has a communications role in the diocese of Hamilton. He told NZ Catholic that although the presbytery is in a bad state, critics of the diocese seem unwilling to take that into account. “They just say it’s a unique building — regardless of its safety,” he said.

Fr Richard Laurenson informed parishioners about five weeks ago that New Zealand had become increasingly aware of the susceptibility of some Church buildings to earthquakes.

As part of that process diocesan authorities and the parish council had been reflecting on the cathedral presbytery. The house, he said, was built at the same time and using the same methods as the old St Mary’s Church, which the city council had required the Church to pull down because it was considered a serious danger in the event of an earthquake.

“I am told by older parishioners that the church was damp and cold, and did not lend itself to accommodating the people well. A similar story can be told about the presbytery,” he said. “It is an old building that used to accommodate numerous priests who hopped on their bicycles and rode around Hamilton, as well as a live-in housekeeper.”

However, he said, priests had not enjoyed living there. “They have found it cold, damp and dark and this has impacted on the health of many of them.”

Various attempts have been made to improve the presbytery and make it more homely but it has proved difficult to alter to make it a safe and warm home. And in the meantime it had continued to deteriorate.

“There are cracks all over the building and the mortar is falling out from between the bricks. The fact is the house is no longer appropriate for today’s use,” Fr Laurenson said.

Cathedral priests have since moved to a more healthy home.

The parish and the diocese are expected to start planning in the next few months for the construction of a new presbytery and a new diocesan pastoral centre.

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