A ‘holey’ place


Churches are holy places, but flooding through the flat concrete roof of the Avondale College church has seen the building become a “holey” place. Compounding the problem is that unlike other churches, the building is the premier performing arts venue and the spiritual centre for college students.

Water has been leaking through the roof for a long time, essentially from when the building opened on March 8, 1988. An airflow unit, which sat on the roof, eventually stopped functioning. A wet-seal membrane protecting the roof has deteriorated—even a resealing about five years ago did not stop the leaks.

We have a duty of care to those who use the building. So despite our tight fiscal position we’re committed to fixing the problem.

This has become a major work health and safety issue—the church closed for a time this past year after sections of the ceiling collapsed to the floor. “We have a duty of care to those who use the building,” Avondale president Professor Ray Roennfeldt said. “So despite our tight fiscal position we’re committed to fixing the problem.”

Water leaking onto musical instruments, particularly those remaining permanently on the stage, concerns Avondale Conservatorium director Aleta King. The conservatorium uses the building to host its Avondale Concert Series, including the meditative and reflective music program, Evensong, and gala events such as last year’s Homecoming concert, War and Peace. “The combined replacement value of the instruments is in the region of six figures,” Ms King said. She described Lady Elle, the newly refurbished Yamaha concert grand piano that Avondale has owned for 40 years, and the Johannus organ, as “irreplaceable”.

They’ve come up with a solution to the problem: building a pitched roof. “We made the decision: rather than continuously repair the membrane, to roof straight over the top,” assistant property manager James Moncrieff said. The roof, insulated to prevent a build-up of moisture on the inside, will also protect a new airflow unit and louvres, and keep the sun off the concrete roof, reducing heat inside the building.

Protecting the building to enhance its performance space is in keeping with the vision of those who designed it. Former senior lecturer in mathematics, Dr Wilf Pinchin, an expert on acoustics, reverberation and performance space, served as a member of the construction committee. He recommended a reverberation that would suit a range of activities—from orchestral music to spoken word. The building is “versatile”, with many surfaces of different sizes that break up the sound—this makes congregational singing sound full, for example. The main reason for the building’s versatility is “to prepare broad-based students,” Dr Pinchin said. The building, with minor changes, can be adapted to hear a drama or sermon without echo or to hear choirs and orchestras by adding electronic reverberation for atmosphere and depth.

This Sabbath’s (June 7) Avondale College of Higher Education offering will contribute to the $650,000 needed to build the pitched roof. The most recent offering in 2012 also had a music focus, raising $144,000 to restore and enhance the historic Music and Greer Halls on the Lake Macquarie campus. “Your generosity improved the Avondale experience for our music students,” Dr Roennfeldt said. “Your response to the offering this year will do the same, and it will also restore and protect our holy place.”

College chaplain, Dr Wayne French, said the building’s physical restoration is important. “When I think about worship, I think about Friday nights and Sabbath mornings in College Church,” he said. “The building has a grandeur that focuses your attention up toward God.” Its design also creates a sense of community. “The students seem close to you. It’s just such a friendly and easy place to connect.”