The wrought iron gate of Island Bay’s Erskine College
New stoush brewing over Erskine College
by NIKKI MACDONALD
Century-old pohutukawas spread splendidly above, but weeds smother the plantings, broken glass flecks the path. Even a water pipe has become a canvas for bored taggers.
The path’s destination is Island Bay’s Erskine College – the imposing Gothic building that for 79 years housed several hundred schoolgirls, moulding some of New Zealand’s top female minds: former Environment Court judge Shonagh Kenderdine; broadcaster Maggie Barry; comedienne Ginette McDonald; politician Winnie Laban; photographer Anne Noble.
Its gables stretch for the sky as they did when the building was opened in 1906, but sparrows now nest in the decaying eaves, windows are blocked with roofing iron, curtains are yellowed and ragged remnants. Inside, photos show pooled water and a box of historic hymn books turned pigeon’s nest.
On April 16, Wellington City Council declared Erskine College unsafe, reigniting a two-decade-old debate about the future of the four-storey college building and its adjoining chapel, which both carry the Historic Places Trust’s highest heritage status. The chapel is recognised as one of New Zealand’s finest Gothic spaces, its 14.5-metre rib-vaulted ceiling ranking with Old St Paul’s for architectural splendour.
The site’s owner, developer Ian Cassels’ The Wellington Company, wants to demolish the old school to build something usable, and vest the chapel in a trust, saying it’s no longer economically viable to strengthen the buildings.
to be continued