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While a category 2 historic places status protected the St John's Presbyterian Church and Sunday school in Cromwell from demolition, it made them a daunting prospect for prospective buyers, writes Caroline Foster in this extract from Repurposed.
In 2004 the St John's Presbyterian Church and Sunday school buildings in the historic precinct of Cromwell faced an uncertain future. Their category 2 historic places status protected them from demolition, but made them a daunting prospect for prospective buyers. It was only when Brendon and Kerry Urlich chanced upon the buildings that the impasse was broken.
The Urlichs are long-term ex-pats and, with a young family, were looking for a home to anchor them to New Zealand while Brendon Urlich's international career took them abroad for years at a time.
The first task was to make the structure dry and weathertight. The exterior stonework was repaired and repointed in schist-compatible mortar, the roof reclad and the flashings and guttering replaced so that water flow was directed away from the walls - all in such a way that to all appearances, no changes had been made.
As the building dried out, it steadily changed colour, a visual barometer of progress.
"We watched it happen between visits," Mr Urlich remembers.
"We were not permitted to install dampproofing, so doing whatever was possible to direct the water away from the building was the only way possible to address the damp. The consequent colour change was a visual thing but the actual drying out immediately made a huge difference to the comfort levels within."
As required by the heritage status, the Gothic arched windows and cathedral ceilings are unchanged, although the building has been extensively strengthened by the insertion of steel beams in various areas. Below them - freestanding and distinctly secular in mood - internal wall dividers and large items such as the wall of kitchen storage have been constructed as "floating" elements. Not only can they be removed or remodelled should the need arise but, being separate from the original structure, they touch only lightly upon it.
All involved in the restoration take immense pride in what has been achieved. Project manager Anthony Robertson relished what it took to "see an old building come back to better than it was originally. Nothing was straight and there were numerous shapes and angles that all needed to be addressed with handmade solutions. It was very labour intensive but immensely satisfying. It's not often we get the opportunity to do something like this."
Mr Urlich acknowledges it would have been cheaper to build from new, but they did not regret a cent.
"Work like what we've done here doesn't come cheap. But the satisfaction we've gained from making it good for another 140 years is immense, and knowing it will be our family's base for generations is a huge thing. It's hard to put a figure on that."
Every piece of timber from the original structure has been repurposed into another use. This has both minimised waste and imbued the newly constructed
elements with the softening patina of age.
European beech and Baltic pine brought to New Zealand in the 19th century in the form of packing containers and originally used to line the walls have been
recycled for a second time into flooring and ceiling linings.
Internal partitions have largely been designed as "floating elements" so that their presence does not intrude on the integrity of the original structure.