Heritage re-build a specialist skill

St Mary's chapel conservation project required earthquake strengthening and specialist restoration skills to bring the chapel back its former glory.

St Mary's Chapel in Hamilton East was built in 1926 on behalf of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions by Hargeaves, Stapleton & Rolfe, builders of Hamilton. The Chapel was designed by local architect, Jack Chitty, in the 'Arts & Crafts' style of rural English cottages.

 

Alongside the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions convent, St Mary's Chapel served the Mission Sisters and the public until the convent was closed and the serving Sisters moved away into more modest accommodation nearby.

 

In 2008 the convent buildings were found to be well below the required seismic standards and an earthquake risk. They were closed soon after. For nine years the convent building had sat empty and in time became rundown and vandalised, reluctantly leading to its demolition in 2017. However, the Chapel had remained in use and had been recognised as a 'Heritage Building' by both Hamilton City and Heritage New Zealand, but still required urgent seismic upgrading and restoration work.

The outer layer of the brick walls was carefully removed and 'shotcrete' was applied progressively in steps to construct a new structural concrete wall while ensuring that the inner layer of the bricks was not dislodged.
The outer layer of the brick walls was carefully removed and 'shotcrete' was applied progressively in steps to construct a new structural concrete wall while ensuring that the inner layer of the bricks was not dislodged.

The Catholic Diocese of Hamilton established a Trust to raise the money to restore the Chapel and to bring it up to 700% of the new building standard. The Trust appointed Bob Peacocke as the Project Director for managing the Chapel earthquake strengthening and restoration project. LobelI Construction was selected from five tenderers to carry out the restoration work.

Bob says: "This project required a high level of understanding of heritage buildings, care and precision. We wanted to restore the Chapel and maintain its heritage value for the community. Lobell Construction proved to be very sensitive to this aspect of the building project."

Essentially, Lobell's Site Manager, John Greene, who had previous experience in heritage-type restoration work, was a fundamental consideration for Bob and the Chapel Conservation committee.

 

John was able to provide the restoration experience, care and attention to detail required by this conservation project. LobelI did a fantastic job with a very successful outcome.

 

The seismic strengthening work was designed by Bob Gray, Structural Engineers of Hamilton. This work involved surrounding the building with heavy concrete foundations, carefully removing the outer layer of bricks and thickening the walls with structural 'shotcrete' concrete so as to not dislodge the inner layer of bricks, widening of the main columns, and strengthening the ceilings and roof to form a 'very stiff box-like structure' better able to resist earthquake forces. At the same time, the building services were upgraded or replaced, and the facilities within the Chapel were modernised to better suit its current day use.

In carrying out the external and internal conservation of St. Mary's Chapel, careful consideration was given to the religious and historic aspects of the building.

Bob adds, "At one stage the conservators from Heritage New Zealand came to site and were delighted that the main supporting columns to the Chapel were able to be widened and strengthened without detracting from the style and symmetry of the special sets of Chapel windows, demonstrating the high level of skilled specialists on the Lobell team."


Once the convent had been demolished, Lobell was able to construct a new entrance into the Chapel which featured special decorative ramps to suit the style of the Chapel and provide wheelchair access. Then Lobell constructed a feature memorial wall and gateway utilising the inscribed lintel beam and bricks salvaged from the demolition of the brick walls originally surrounding the former convent building.

Lobell assisted by removing statues and icons for conservation by others off-site, carefully restored all internal aspects of St. Mary's Convent Chapel, and then re-instated the statues and icons.
Lobell assisted by removing statues and icons for conservation by others off-site, carefully restored all internal aspects of St. Mary's Convent Chapel, and then re-instated the statues and icons.

Bob says "This feature is an important part of the history of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions here in Hamilton, and we wanted to make sure that we preserved and acknowledged the contribution of the Sisters to Catholic education throughout the Waikato and beyond."

 

The Chapel was officially re-opened in September 2017, and 40 Sisters from throughout New Zealand, gathered for the opening. All the Sisters were delighted with the outcome and ambience of the restored Chapel created by Lobell's restoration team.

Bob explains "St. Mary's Chapel is a historic building which is much valued by the community. The sensitive restoration work carried out by Lobell has been a great success and has enhanced the life and value of an iconic heritage building for many years to come. The Chapel is again being used for weddings, funerals and church gatherings."

"Lobell Construction understood the specific needs of the restoration work, and had the skills and experience to deliver an outstanding result. Lobell's Managing Director was on site regularly which was another key to the success of the project". The Project Team achieved an excellent result."