Trust to buy courthouse; conservation plan in place

A crumbling remnant of Otago's gold rush past may soon be brought back to its former glory.

The Lawrence Heritage Trust has ambitions to begin conservation of the former courthouse in Lawrence, the South Otago town where gold was first discovered in 1861 by Gabriel Read.

Trust chairman Roger Cotton said the trust had been working for 15 years to acquire the category 1 historic building - built in 1876 - and was now close to doing so.

A conservation plan was already in place to allow work to begin on restoring the building, which was in a poor state of repair because of dampness, which had damaged walls and ceilings.

Although Mr Cotton would not reveal details of the planned purchase, he said sufficient funds had been raised thanks to "generous benefactors", and a sale was expected to occur soon.

He said the project was timely as the annual Lawrence Heritage Day was being held this Sunday, and the courthouse would be among several historic buildings opening their doors to the public.

"The courthouse saw its last judicial activity in 1953, but continued to be used by officials, then by the local Presbyterian church as a community centre up until the 1980s. Since then it's passed through several sets of private hands, so we're quite excited and, perhaps, a bit daunted, to be at this point now where conservation looks set to begin."

He said funding estimates for a "faithful" restoration sat around $1million.

"We want to see it back to its former glory. It has several interesting features like New Zealand's first architectural concrete pillars within its colonnade but, unfortunately, has also undergone a lot of piecemeal alterations down the years, and recently has started to deteriorate pretty badly, with crumbling masonry."

He said visitors to Lawrence could access the courthouse and other buildings in Colonsay St by donation, from 11am on Sunday.

The Tuapeka Vintage Club, which had joined forces with the trust for the heritage day, would open its doors from 10am.

The day would conclude at 4.30pm with an official opening of the Lawrence Arches, a new community space created from the town's former swimming pool.

"We'd love to see people here from far and wide, to come and take a look at what our small community has achieved."

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