Nearly three years and $7.5 million dollars after the November 2014 storm, James O’Callaghan writes on the repairs of the St John’s Cathedral precinct.
27 November, 2014 will be etched in the memory of Brisbane residents.
A storm struck in peak hour and, while short in duration, it generated wind gusts of 141 km/h and hail the size of navel oranges.
St John’s Cathedral, widely considered to be the best example of French-Gothic architecture in the southern hemisphere, sustained almost $3 million worth of damage.
Dean of St John’s Cathedral, The Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt, said roof tiles were destroyed, the copper sheeting on the front spires and the southern and eastern sides of the bell tower was damaged.
“I was on site when the storm hit,” he said. “I stood in my office watching the massive, jagged hail stones pounding the building and the bishops’ cars. The hailstones shattered into smaller projectiles, each doing
“The cars were deeply dented and the windows were smashed. Huge volumes of water accompanied the hail stones.”
The Dean said the building was awash.
“Water was pouring through the stone vaulting and flowing out of the organ. I noticed that a few of the stained glass windows had sustained minor damage and I was grateful that somehow there had not been more
damage to the windows.”
The Cathedral was not the only building affected by the storm, similar damage across the Cathedral Precinct, including water damage affecting carpets, electrical systems and ceilings.
The lead turret of St Martin’s house was damaged and the building sustained extensive water damage. It required major roof repairs including new ceiling tiles, carpet tiles, painting and electrical repairs.
Across the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane, 38 buildings were damaged, with many Anglican Church Southern Queensland cars receiving hail damage and broken windows.
The repair project commenced
Restoration repairs commenced in early June 2015 with a methodology plan agreed and materials sourced. The problems were multiple and complex, with replacement material difficult to source.
NPS Commercial was appointed as the principle building contractor to undertake insurance repairs and began emergency safety works.
Managing Director, Mark Paterson sourced approximately 37,500 tiles from France for St John’s Cathedral and 22,000 tiles were sourced from Belgium for St Martin’s House and Church house.
“All tiles were fixed in place with copper nails, as per the original construction,” he said.
“Heritage required the visible timeline of different roof tiles used during the cathedral’s original construction to remain in place – there are three clear visible changes along the length of the cathedral, dating back to
“More than 100 individual leadlight window sections were damaged in the storm event, all of which were repaired individually by hand.”
The Deanery suffered water damage with internal restoration required in the form of plastering and painting. The entire roof was replaced due to the hail damage sustained.
At Church House, patch and repair work was required on the western elevation roof while 100 per cent of the eastern elevation roof was repaired. The leadlight windows were also damaged and
needed to be repaired.
Webber House sustained water damage with internal restoration including plastering, painting, carpet tiles, vinyl flooring and kitchen cabinetry required. Patch and repair work was required to sections of the roof as
well as replacement of the storm damaged leadlight windows.
The entire roof of the Webber Annex was replaced as well as storm damaged windows and the rain water tank.
The Dean said one of the biggest challenges associated with the project was finding ways to do repairs without drilling holes into the cathedral stonework.
“We had to find appropriate solutions that honoured the cathedral’s aesthetic and heritage significance and coordinating the repair work with the operation of the precinct as a work place,” he said.
Access proved to be the biggest challenge, with heritage restrictions meaning scaffolding could only have minimal ties/fixings to the building.
“Structural engineers were engaged to determine suitable scaffold construction, with consideration for wind ratings, load ratings, total scaffold height and use for repairs,” said Mr Paterson.
“The front spires scaffold was counter-levered using layher beams, placed through the existing spire louver window cavities with a scaffold footprint of 8m x 7m at the base of each tower.
“The scaffold rose vertically, the towers were connected over the cathedral entry for stabilisation. Each scaffold sections was craned into place progressively with a total of 273 steps to reach the top of the working platform
and a total height of 52 meters.
“The Bell tower scaffold was counter-levered off the main internal concrete ring beam of the bell tower, and through the existing louver window cavities, and a custom platform was constructed to accommodate the sloping
“Each scaffold section was craned into place progressively. Working platforms were custom designed and fabricated for the rear high alter roof repairs.
“This allowed the roofing contractor’s safe access at all times by harnessing to the working platform.”
Jack Barnes was appointed to undertake the roof tile repairs. He was part of the original contracting team during the last stage of cathedral construction in the 1990s.
Mr Paterson said one of the most satisfying parts of the project was the fact that all repairs were carried out while 200 precinct staff continued to operate as normal.
The Dean said the builders did remarkable job in enabling the cathedral to still function. “The fact that the roof was covered in tarpaulins for two years and that there was a significant amount of scaffolding has had an effect on the number of weddings being booked,” he said.
“The damage to the organ was considerable and has affected its reliability.
“The organ repair work is due to start mid- September 2017 and will be completed by Easter 2018.”
An upgrade to the internal and external lighting was required for compliance which Dean Catt said had provided better control of the lights, allowing the Cathedral to do some beautiful things during worships and concerts.
“We also took the opportunity, while scaffolding was in place, to do some maintenance work on some of the stained glass,” he said.
The restoration was project managed by St John’s Cathedral Precinct Event Manager Gerard Finn who said it was a challenging but rewarding experience.
“We look forward to parishioners experiencing St John’s Cathedral in its full glory,” he said.
The work on the buildings was completed in April. The entire cost of the refurbishment to the entire precinct was $7.5 million.