PHOTO: Photo: Supplied / Jordan McCall
Heritage enthusiasts and former residents are deeply dismayed as vandals run rampant within a historic structure in New Plymouth, even as its fate remains uncertain.
The Barrett Street Hospital Nurses’ Home, despite having the highest level of heritage safeguarding under the district plan, is experiencing break-ins, wanton destruction, and arson, with these acts being shared online.
Constructed during the 1920s, the nurses’ quarters are part of Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa’s Treaty of Waitangi settlement and possess significant cultural value.
Land Information NZ is tasked with its administration and upkeep. However, the edifice, once splendid, now stands dilapidated and vulnerable, with boarded windows and leaks. Despite signs indicating 24/7 surveillance, individuals have been entering through a shattered window.
Julie Mace, who received her training at Barrett St Hospital, expressed her shock at the building’s state.
“It’s a disgrace. It’s an absolute disgrace how it’s been neglected. Unfortunately, we have little control over the situation. It’s just been left to deteriorate, and LINZ should have taken better care of it.”
The octogenarian fondly recollected the building’s past glory, particularly its renowned ballroom.
“Oh, it was enchanting. We held dances there – a first-year ball and a graduation ball. It was also used for graduations, complete with a sprung floor.”
Life in the nurses’ quarters, Mace noted, was somewhat regimented.
“As students, it was quite military-like in its management, very disciplined. We had to stand with arms behind our backs, and upon entering the dining hall, we had to introduce ourselves at the head table. And when leaving, we had to bid our farewells to the dining hall supervisor.”
Accommodation was modest.
“We had single bedrooms with a narrow bed, just two-foot six-inches wide, a set of drawers, and no table. There was a wardrobe and a small chair. The bathrooms were communal.”
Mace treasured countless cherished memories within the building and expressed sadness over its potential loss.
Heritage enthusiast Jordan McCall is leading an online campaign to safeguard the nurses’ home.
He decried the ongoing situation as unacceptable.
“Trespassers have unlawfully entered the premises. There was an open entrance inviting anyone to crawl in, and pictures posted on Facebook depict people causing damage, punching and kicking holes in walls, and even starting fires.”
McCall criticized Land Information NZ for neglect.
“I informed them that this is a heritage building under the highest level of protection, managed by them. They need to adequately manage it, considering we don’t know if it will be preserved, maintained, or demolished.”
Despite the nurses’ home being reaffirmed as a heritage site in the proposed district plan, an indigenous collective is appealing the decision to the Environment Court.
Located on the site of the former Otūmaikuku pa, the group asserts that the hearing process prioritized the protection of colonial architecture over Te Tiriti obligations. Heritage Taranaki’s Rob Green empathized with the indigenous standpoint.
“Te Atiawa wishes to see the building gone, and we understand their perspective. If they were promised an unencumbered site, the current building certainly poses an encumbrance. We share that sentiment.”
Nonetheless, Green advocates for the preservation and repurposing of the building.
“Adaptive reuse is the solution. Locking up and preserving a building without purpose is futile. It must have a vibrant, economically sustainable life.”
Green urged the government to contribute to the building’s restoration costs.
LINZ’s manager for project and hazard management delivery, Matthew Bradley, clarified that their role involves managing and maintaining the property while its future ownership is decided.
“We are aware of recent vandalism on the premises, and our contractors are working to repair and secure access points. All exterior openings are secured, and we are collaborating with contractors to further fortify the property.”
Bradley pointed out that the building is earthquake-prone and hazardous, and unauthorized entry is perilous.
“We strongly discourage unauthorized entry due to public safety concerns.”
LINZ is not authorized to undertake extensive repairs or restoration, with the focus on restricting access.
“It is regularly monitored through daily security patrols around its perimeter. If security personnel discover unauthorized individuals inside, the police are notified.”
Bradley revealed that the district council recently reclassified the building’s “activity status” as “discretionary,” allowing for discussions about future options.
“We are engaged in this process, closely liaising with manawhenua and environmental consultants regarding further steps required for the broader site.”
Ultimately, Bradley emphasized that the building’s future use will be determined by its future owners.
The district council was unable to provide specifics on the amended “activity status” for the nurses’ home but stressed that removing its Category 1 heritage status would result in the loss of existing protections.