St Columban’s church at Mayfield appears destined for demolition after experts told Newcastle City Council it would cost $6 million to repair its foundations.
The Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle applied early this year to demolish the 1940 red-brick building, which is listed as an item of local significance on the city’s Local Environment Plan.
The National Trust’s Hunter committee has opposed the demolition, arguing the diocese should look at ways to preserve at least parts of the building.
EJE Architecture’s Barney Collins, who prepared a heritage report on the building for the diocese, told a council public voice meeting on Tuesday that the church was “dangerous” and could not be saved. He said the building’s load-bearing concrete sections included lumps of raw blast-furnace slag from BHP which had absorbed water and deteriorated.
“In my 40 years I’ve been a conservation architect in Newcastle … I have never come across a structural issue so serious for a building,” he said. “ … I cannot work out a solution for this because of the way it was originally constructed.”
The church, which is unused, adjoins St Columban’s Primary School and San Clemente high school. The diocese plans to replace it with a multi-purpose hall.
Mr Collins said the building’s unusual suspended foundations sat 1.5 metres above the ground, which could lead to a “catastrophic” failure of the tall brick walls in an earthquake or cyclone.
“We believe it needs to come down as soon as possible,” he said.
Engineer John Burke said the church’s foundations had suffered “extreme” damage and needed to be replaced.
A Burke Engineering Services report lodged with a demolition application in February said the building’s footings were in danger of failing, but it did not include a dollar figure for repairs.
The National Trust’s Dr Ann Hardy, a historian, said the church had strong social and architectural significance and queried whether the council had investigated all alternatives to demolition.
She said she had been unaware of the $6 million repair estimate until Tuesday night. Knowing that figure had changed her “personal” objection to the demolition, though the National Trust and community might hold a different view.