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St John’s in the City starts $4.2m earthquake strengthening campaign

St John’s in the City, the 132-year-old Presbyterian church on the corner of Willis and Dixon Streets, launched a $4.2 million fund-raising campaign yesterday.

The funds are needed to carry out seismic strengthening to 70% of the New Building Standard on the Category 1 historic building, which is currently deemed “earthquake prone” at 25% of code.

The plan for the building would see it strengthened by being tied to new reinforced foundations to stop it from sliding into Willis Street in a big quake, and to prevent the bell tower moving and clashing with the main building.

The work, which is planned to start in October, would keep St John’s functioning as a church and as a building available to the rest of the community.

Despite its 800-person capacity, its use for events such as concerts is heavily restricted because of the earthquake rating. Such events could again take place after the work is done, with St John’s joining St Mary of the Angels, which reopened in Easter 2017 on Boulcott Street after over $10 million was raised for earthquake strengthening, as a venue for secular events.

St John’s leaders have personally pledged $278,000 to kick-start the appeal, with an additional $1.2 million to come from existing church funds.

The Grants Subcomittee of the Wellington City Council is expected to approve a grant to St John’s of $168,500 at its meeting on Wednesday, in the only round of the Built Heritage Incentive Fund for the 2018/19 financial year. Sixteen applications have been received for this round seeking funding of $1,606,023, with a total of $450,000 available for allocation.

The remainder will have to come from the community.

Allister Lane, Minister at St John’s says, “We don’t have the wealthy people in the congregation who contributed when St John’s was built, such as the Kirkcaldies and James Smiths, but we’re going all out to raise the $4.2 million.

“We’ll ask our congregation first but we need a lot of help to do it. That way, we can keep St John’s as a spiritual presence and play our part in Wellington long into the future.”

Built of kauri, and opened in December 1885 to replace an earlier church destroyed by fire in 1883, St John’s in the City was registered as a historic place on 18 March 1982.

It is one of the oldest large timber buildings in inner-city Wellington, and is the nearest Presbyterians get to having a cathedral in Wellington. It has been used for many large events, including the funerals of Prime Ministers Peter Fraser and Sir John Marshall.

St John’s founded the Wellington Boys’ and Girls’ Institute, Queen Margaret and Scots Colleges, and has always run youth groups. It is also part of Downtown Community Ministry, hosts Otago University’s Centre for Theology and Public Issues, and recently started a café at the Dixon St Flats to provide much-needed social activity for residents.

Find out more about the strengthening project here.