Saturday, December 15, 2012

Buildings in the Post Canterbury Earthquake Era

Attitudes to historic, unreinforced buildings have changed enormously since the Canterbury earthquakes.  As pastor of a church I have noticed this in several ways:
  • Insurance premiums have risen significantly. 
  • Perceptions of the risk of old buildings have changed.  One woman who had left Christchurch after the February quake and moved to Dunedin told me she didn't like going into old brick buildings anymore. 
  • Government and local council building standards have changed.
At East Taieri Church we have sought to navigate our way through this in a reasonable and responsible way.  Not over-reacting, nor pretending nothing has changed.  We have also sought to avoid any sense of worry, panic, or preoccupation with buildings. The key question we seek to keep before us is:
"What is God saying to us about the facilities we need for God's mission here?"
The elders and other leaders at ET pray about the future of God's mission here and seek to discern God's leading.  Some of the vision we have expressed in the council of elders for facilities to foster God's mission include:
  • A vision for a large, vibrant, contemporary worship setting.  We see value in a multipurpose worship space which could accommodate up to 500 people.  This would also be of value to the wider Mosgiel community.
  • A vision for continuing to run large events well.  We see this as part of our calling – our Christmas Eve services, Ministry Conference, large combined services, etc.
  • East Taieri is family friendly.  Families identify with ET as a place where their children, young people, and their whole family can grow in Christ together.
  • Part of being family friendly and hospitable is the need for settings where we have good facilities for children, and we can serve food and good coffee, engaging people in interactive, alternative worship.  (FUEL and Church @6 are good examples of this) This highlights the need for catering facilities.
Over a year ago, the elders established a Future Property Development Group (FPDG) to prepare a development plan for the East Taieri site.  They have consulted widely about the future needs of ministries of the church.
Over this same period the Dunedin City Council, like all councils, established a plan to assess and identify those public buildings that are earthquake prone. The Synod of Otago and Southland (who are the trustees for Presbyterian churches south of the Waitaki River) followed up on this by establishing a well researched and informed policy for Presbyterian buildings in the south. This policy includes the engagement of an engineering firm to carry out a seismic assessment of buildings.  They will inspect and do what is called an enhanced Initial Evaluation Procedure (IEP Plus).  That will tell us what percentage of the National Building Standard (NBS) each of our buildings meets, and other helpful information.
These engineers will be visiting East Taieri Church in March 2013 to carry out this seismic assessment process with the report due a couple of weeks later. Synod now require that buildings like ours meet 67% of NBS. It is unlikely that the Kinmont Hall and the East Taieri Church will meet these standards.  We will then be faced with deciding the future of these buildings.  What can be preserved and what cannot?  Synod has set a timeframe of 8 years for either the strengthening, sale or demolition of buildings that don’t meet these building standards.
Where does all this leave us? We have a wonderful heritage at East Taieri. For example, the gospel stories contained in the stained glass windows have spoken to generations of worshippers.  One of the challenges we face is how to best honour and preserve our heritage as we move into the future.  In the long term, the existing East Taieri church building doesn’t meet the mission needs of the congregation, and we expect it would need major strengthening work in order to meet earthquake national building standards.  No final decision on the future of the buildings has yet been made, but future investigations will include replacing the East Taieri Church with a new worship centre connected to the existing fellowship centre.  Elders and the Resourcing4Mission board will report to the congregation again in late March 2013 after the engineering assessment report is available.  There will be careful consultative, evaluation, design and planning processes put in place.