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Timaru landmark . . . Strengthening work is expected to begin on the Sacred Heart Basilica early next year. PHOTO: CLAIRE ALLISON

by Claire Allison

Strengthening work on Timaru’s Sacred Heart Basilica is expected to start early next year, and nearly $1million has already been raised for the project.

The Catholic Diocese of Christchurch will manage the cashflow around the work being undertaken so that it can start before the fundraising campaign is complete. It it is hoped the work will be completed by Christmas next year.

The fundraising effort was launched in June this year.

The Bishop of Christchurch, the Most Rev Paul Martin, said the generosity of parishioners and others associated with the parish had been outstanding.

“Already the parish has raised nearly $1million of the $1.6million we are targeting.

“The Timaru parish and community have always been known for their generosity, and this is no exception.

“In saying that, we still have another $600,000 to raise, but we are well on the way and are now engaging with the local Timaru community, as well as through fundraising from trusts, corporations and other sources.

“Because of this superb effort, we can now confidently start work on what is a major undertaking,” he said.

The total cost of the project will be about $3.9million.

In addition to the $1.6million being raised by the parish, the diocese is contributing close to $700,000 and approaches have been made to national organisations such as the Lottery environment and heritage committee.

Campaign chairman Gary Shand said that originally they thought that the total cost would have been less, but the bell towers were proving difficult.

“The north bell tower, for example, houses the eight bells. With each bell weighing around one tonne, a new steel frame will be inserted to support these ringing bells. These spaces are confined and the work is complex.

“In addition, the existing stone substrate is weaker than expected, requiring the installation of more steelwork to support the structure, along with the inclusion of a concrete lining layer to the inside of the towers to help spread the connection loads out across the tower walls.”

Investigations following the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes revealed that the basilica, which is a category one Heritage New Zealand landmark, was no longer able to meet the new safety and building standards required for an earthquake-prone building.

“We will install systems to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our parishioners.

“We will repair the interior central dome which shelters the congregation, and renew the framing for the windows within the dome.

“Steel and concrete will be used to reinforce the basilica’s nave, transepts and towers to ensure the church structure is above the mandated 34% of the new building standards required for earthquake-prone buildings.”