Demolition at The Elms | Te Papa to begin

The Elms Te Papa manager Andrew Gregg at the site of the demolition. Photo: John Borren.

The next stage in the development of a new visitor experience for The Elms | Te Papa Tauranga is due to begin in mid-May with the demolition of the two houses and a garage at neighbouring property, 7 and 11 Mission Street.

“The back property at 11 Mission Street was owned by Tauranga City Council which decided last year to transfer ownership to mana whenua represented by the Otamataha Trust,” says Elms manager Andrew Gregg.

“With that land transfer, the final piece of the jigsaw is settled. Now we can progress with building a carpark at the site of 7 Mission Street and a visitor centre for the rear section, number 11.”

Currently 7 Mission Street includes a house and garage and has room for the planned 28 space carpark with the entrance off Mission Street.

“We don’t have a detailed plan for the visitor centre at this point. Part of the reason for that is that we didn’t know who was going to own the land, and were waiting for Council to resolve the tenure," says Andrew.

“But now that Council has settled that, we’re going to embark on a design process and will have a concept developed for the centre. There will be some gallery space, an education studio, potentially a café, or small food and beverage service.”

Before works could commence the asbestos, present in both buildings, had to be removed, along with some trees on the property. “They were not protected trees and were going to be in the way of the development. All but one of the protected trees are on the other side of the boundary inside the Elms grounds.”

One of the protected trees along the boundary is an approximately 180 year old sentinel Norfolk pine which served as a beacon for ships entering Tauranga harbour. In terms of tree roots and protection zones, the root protection area radius is equivalent to half way up the height of the tree.

Preparing for demolition has consumed considerable time and effort over the past six months.

“There is a lot of complexity with this project,” says Andrew. “When the demolition crew is in here, they will have an arborist and archaeologist watching and supervising, and all of the pavers within the root radius area will need to be lifted by hand.’

Getting the Council consents and Heritage NZ authority in place is all part of protecting what is a very special site.

The rear building was built pre-1940s, and has been a private home. Prior to that Andrew believes the land area would have been relatively undisturbed for quite some time.

“In speaking with archaeologist Ken Phillips about this project a while ago he got excited as he noticed immediately that there wasn’t a lot of modification to the landscape. He felt that there was good potential here for archaeological discovery.

The building nearer the road frontage was built later in two stages, and at one stage served as a solicitor’s office.

Andrew says the view shaft from the harbour side of the property out to Mauao is protected to a certain extent, with the Port of Tauranga complying with height regulations.

It’s possible that the new visitor centre could go up two storeys.

“In the process of developing a design for the centre we’ll figure that out. There is a nine metre height restriction here, so two storeys is certainly within the realms of possibility,” says Andrew.

“The experience will be to arrive, park, enter the visitor centre, purchase a ticket then enter the main site through the original gates. That was always the intention, seeing the Mission House from the same arrival point that those travelling by sea saw it when visiting.”

The entry gates which will lead visitors from the future visitor centre into the The Elms | Te Papa property. Photo: Rosalie Liddle Crawford.

After demolition, Bay of Plenty archaeologist and heritage consultant Ken Phillips will be coming on site to carry out an archaeological survey.

“There’s few who know more about this area than Ken,” says Andrew.

Ken has previously discovered the remains of a trench that runs through the Otamataha Pa and has researched the archaeology of early Te Papa, one of the most important sites in the history of Tauranga.

The Mission House at The Elms | Te Papa, seen from the front lawn after arriving through where the original entry to the property is located. Photo: Rosalie Liddle Crawford.

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