Multi-million-dollar development of Erskine planned

Plans are progressing for a multi-million-dollar redevelopment project at Island Bay’s former Erskine College site, which is designated a special housing area.

It includes a range of terraced houses and apartment units on parts of the 1.8ha property, a $7 million restoration of its historic chapel and refurbishment of its wedding/function centre, a new early childcare facility and café, and restoration of Reverend Mother’s garden.

Property developer Ian Cassels, of The Wellington Company, said the project would offer a significant boost to Island Bay’s economy and housing, breathing fresh life into the dilapidated site.

Earthquake strengthening and restoring the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, built in 1930 and considered one of New Zealand’s finest gothic chapels, would ensure the Category 1 historic building’s long-term future, he said.

It would resume as a wedding venue, which closed when the chapel and adjoining convent building were red-stickered by the Wellington City Council in 2012.

Numerous options had been explored to retain the adjoining 1906 four storey convent building, but none proved economically feasible. Earthquake strengthening and refurbishing it into apartments would cost about $12 million, resulting in a $5 million loss once completed.

Cassels said the building’s location made it hard to find a financially viable solution, compared to historic buildings in the central city, which more easily attracted tenants.

“Plenty of people have offered to move into the main convent building for free, but that’s not what we’re talking about.”

A group of Island Bay mothers aimed to run an early childcare centre at Erskine to replace their former facility, the Aubert Childcare Centre, which closed in 2012, he said.

Mayor Wade-Brown who is also an Island Bay resident says, “The Erskine Chapel is a national treasure and I’m delighted it will be strengthened, restored and used. This Council’s endorsement of a Special Housing Area in the heart of Island Bay has helped catalyse development that will bring more housing choice and charming open space into the heart of this popular suburb. I congratulate the developer on their vision, commitment and creativity.”

CoLab Architecture, in Christchurch, and Sydney-based Daryl Jackson Architects were leading the project’s master planning design and architecture.

Tobin Smith, of CoLab, said it would include a range of housing choices, from one and two-bed terraced homes to three and four-bed family homes.

Some would have a gothic-style design to link with the site’s history, while others would be more contemporary, all set in highly landscaped grounds. Also, a large landscaped podium area would be created outside the chapel as space for the public or weddings.

The project’s manager, Earl Hope-Pearson, said the need to redevelop the site was becoming more urgent with vandals increasingly targeting its empty buildings almost daily.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent trying to keep the site secure, including installing cameras and site patrols.

About six months ago, a fortified door was chain-sawed and burglars stole most of the convent’s internal wooden doors. Vandals also started a fire in the chapel and damaged parts of the building plus its historic fixtures, he said.

The company had until mid-September to lodge a resource consent application to the council.

Cassels said he hoped the community would support the project, which would be his last attempt to find a solution for the challenging site.

“We are doing something that I believe is incredibly good. We are setting up a charitable trust to manage the chapel long-term and will underwrite it until it is functioning in a sustainable way,” Cassels said.

Erskine College old girl and former head prefect Councillor Nicola Young is excited about the planned restoration of the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, and the economic value the wider development will bring to Island Bay.

Councillor Young has accepted the role as a founding trustee of the Erskine Chapel Trust, established to run the chapel and associated amenities on an ongoing basis.

“Saving Erskine’s chapel has been a top priority for me since I was elected to Council three years ago. It’s considered the finest chapel in New Zealand; modelled on one in France, with lots of Italian Carrara marble.  The alumnae are desperate for the chapel to be saved, and the Wellington Company’s proposal will ensure the building is there for future generations. I’m delighted the new development will save the chapel – and Reverend Mother’s garden,” says Councillor Young.

Southern ward City Councillor and local resident Paul Eagle says, “local people have waited over 30 years for the future of the Erskine College site to be decided. This development will help solve the shortage of good quality housing in Island Bay and provide an economic boost for the community. I applaud the effort that has gone into the quality and thoughtfulness of the design.”

“The Wellington Company met with local residents and alumnae back in 2014 because it wanted to work with people who cared about the future of the buildings,” says Cr Eagle.

The Erskine Showroom is open 7 days a week at 46 Willis Street, Wellington. For more information please visit www.erskine.nz