Restoration work on target

The scaffolding at the top of the spire of the Iona Church in Port Chalmers sways in a slightly sickening way on a good day.

But in a year that has seen its fair share of wind, the conditions have been ''very unpleasant'' for the carpenters and stonemasons who have clung to the more-than-130-year-old Oamaru stone structure, and continued work to restore it.

Stevenson and Williams managing director Rob Cunningham said stage one of the work was complete and the whole project should be completed by the end of the year.

Restoration of the Historic Places Trust category 1-rated Port Chalmers Presbyterian church started in May last year after years of planning and fundraising.

The Historic Iona Church Restoration Trust was set up, independent of the church itself, specifically to raise funds for the project.

Restoration of the 1872-built church hall, which used to serve as the church before the main building and spire were added in 1883, had been completed and scaffolding removed recently.

That work had involved earthquake-strengthening, replacement of some flooring timber and trusses, and repointing of stonework as the building was weatherproofed.

Getting to the top of the main spire involves climbing 16 scaffolding staircases, followed by a single ladder to a small perch by the spire tip and lightning conductor.

It is on the spire a small team of stonemasons, led by Marcus Wainwright, have been replacing and repairing Oamaru stone that was, in some areas, badly damaged by time and weather. Trust trustee Lincoln Coe said the opportunity the project offered to access the spire was a ''once-in-50-years opportunity''.

The cost of the project by the time of its expected completion would be $1.3 million, and that was just the cost of getting the building strengthened and weatherproof, he said.

The trust raised $800,000 originally, but had acquired another $500,000 from organisations including the Lottery Grants Board, the Otago Community Trust and the Presbyterian Synod.

Without that funding, contractors would have had to end their work with the project unfinished.

''Making it pretty'' - restoring aspects like the stained glass windows - would have to be done later.

Those involved in the project, however, were committed to ''doing a proper job''.

Of the work he saw today he said: ''It will see that building remain in great shape in the community for another 100 years.

''It's an outstanding achievement.''

- david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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