IT HAS been a landmark building in Mayfield for 80 years – the Catholic Church “bravely” pushed ahead with its construction within days of the beginning of World War Two. But St Columban’s Church appears destined for the wrecking ball, amid safety fears over concrete cancer that has undermined its foundations.
The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has applied to Newcastle council for permission to demolish the building and hand the surplus land, on Church Street, to St Columban’s Primary School and San Clemente High School.
The building has local heritage listing, but the development application argued against the “extensive” and “highly invasive” repair works needed to address its structural failings.
“This option has severe potential to impact the heritage fabric of the building and will be very unlikely to be concealable,” said a heritage assessment by EJE Architecture. It added that there would be an opportunity to recognise the building’s historical significance through “interpretive means”.
The DA relied on an assessment by Burke Engineering Services, which found a severe storm or earthquake could cause part or all of the southern wall’s external skin to collapse.
The partial collapse of two roof trusses was a “serious structural concern”, it said, while the most severe issue was “clear signs of concrete cancer” in the footings.
Prominent Newcastle architect John Gannon was enlisted to design the church, with a budget of 12,000 pounds, in the late 1930s. The distinctive mix of functionalist and art-deco architecture was described as “highly unusual” for its time. Construction began in September 1939, at the same time World War Two commenced.
“That the project was not shelved but bravely continued to build a house of peace during a time of war is significant,” the heritage assessment said. It was disappointing “that the magnificent building which was erected … despite the threat of violence and destruction should now face its demise through a slow, silent but equally sinister means: decay.”
A Newcastle Herald report from 1940 described the church as an “outstanding work of architecture”, while the Newcastle and Maitland Catholic Sentinel praised it as a combination of “simplicity, grandeur and impressiveness”.
The church has sat vacant since the congregation was relocated to Mayfield West early last year. Its security was compromised in recent months, with the Holy Water font, sliding screen panels in the confessionals and a brass gate taken.
The diocese said the “removed items” had been “retrieved” and the intention was to re-purpose them.