I learned earlier this week that the Church College of New Zealand is scheduled to close later this year, at the end of a 3-year-long process announced in June of 2006. What caught my attention, however, was a news report on opposition to the Church’s plan to dismantle the buildings that made up the school.
While in the United States the term “College” leads many to think of a post-secondary school, i.e., a college or university, elsewhere, including New Zealand, a college can refer to a high school. The Church College of New Zealand was a secondary school that covered school years 9-13 (approximately grades 8-12 in the U.S. system) and enrolled some 700 students, approximately 10 per cent of eligible LDS secondary students in New Zealand. The rest of these students attend local high schools.
In announcing its decision, Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy and Administrator of Religious Education and Elementary and Secondary Education said that the policy and practice of the Church to discontinue operation of such schools when local school systems are able to provide quality education. The Church determined that New Zealand schools can provide sufficient quality, so the school was no longer needed.
Then in July of last year the Church announced that it would dismantle most of the buildings that made up the college and return the land to natural pasture, in order to beautify the area around the New Zealand Temple, which is adjacent to the college. But as the Church sought the required local permits, the city of Hamilton, along with some in the community, objected, saying that the buildings had historic value and should be preserved.
An editorial in the Waikato Times gives some background and suggests that the Church doesn’t see any historic value to the buildings; “That it was even considered that institutional buildings dating back to the 1950s were heritage items was met with what I would call some puzzlement,” a planning consultant for the Church said last year, according to the editorial.
But a city architect disagreed, suggesting that the buildings were “an internationally important example of American post-war modernism and part of Hamilton’s coming of age.” Apparently even the LDS Church members in the heavily Mormon Temple View neighborhood where both the college and the Temple are located disagree, because a poll conducted by a Temple View member and released to the Waikato Times this week showed 85 per cent of respondents, almost all of whom were Mormons, believed some buildings at the site had historic significance and should be retained.” (The editorial does indicate that the poll was not taken in a scientific manner).
To me the odd and perhaps ironic element to all this is that it is a kind of reversal of what has happened so often with proposed LDS Temples. It seems it doesn’t matter if the Church is constructing or demolishing a building, someone will object!
Perhaps more importantly it begs the question of what relationship we have with Church-owned buildings and when should Church buildings be preserved for historical reasons. Many here and elsewhere on the Internet mourned the loss of the Longfellow Park LDS Chapel to fire recently, some even hoping that it would be reconstructed exactly as it was, warts and all. I’m sure that kind of feeling is behind the views of local members, who invested in Education for two or three generations in the Church College buildings.
On the other hand, it is also easy to imagine the concerns of the Church’s local managers, who are faced with either paying for the upkeep and security of the buildings or finding another use or owner for them, or watching them fall into disrepair, becoming an eyesore next to an LDS Temple.
Truly the importance and even the beauty of these buildings is in the eye of the beholder.