End of a Christchurch icon

Holy ground to Cantabrians, Christchurch’s iconic sports stadium Lancaster Park was levelled in the biggest post-earthquake demolition yet. Hugh de Lacy explains.

It was a small mercy that Charles Luney died before the earthquakes that destroyed much of his life’s work, including his beloved Lancaster Park.

Previously known as Jade Stadium (from 1998), then AMI Stadium (from 2007), the park was the scene of 130 years of Canterbury and New Zealand rugby and cricket triumphs and disappointments until the February earthquakes of 2011 smashed it beyond economic repair.

Through 80-odd years of the park’s life one of its most regular attendees at rugby matches was Charles Seymour Luney, a season-ticket holder and ardent supporter of the Canterbury rugby team who, in frequent association with local architecture firm Warren and Mahoney, was the builder of most of the pre-quake Christchurch’s signature commercial and public buildings.

The earthquakes would have shattered Luney as much as they did Christchurch, had he not died at the age of 101 five years before they happened.

His company, CS Luney, had built half the high-rises of the central business district and such landmarks as Princess Margaret and the new Christchurch Hospitals, the public library, the ParkRoyal (later called the Crowne Plaza) Hotel, and his piece de resistance, the Christchurch Town Hall.

His last big project, which he personally oversaw despite being in his late nineties, was the Paul Kelly Motors Stand at the then Jade Stadium in 2002.

Built at a cost of $43 million, the Paul Kelly Stand was 45m high, had seating for 17,000 and contained 30 hospitality suites.

Because the stadium was so hemmed in by houses and businesses in the central city suburb of Waltham, Luney pre-cast the 300-odd giant concrete components of the stand, some weighing hundreds of tonnes, at his Maces Road depot in nearby Bromley, from where they were trucked to the site.

Luney rated this building as his most significant after the Town Hall, but both fell victim to the earthquakes.

What wrecked them was the wave-like up-and-down movement of the two big quakes of February 22, 2011 – magnitudes 6.3 and 6.1 successively, at lunch-time within an hour of each other – that first heaved them skywards then dropped them back like a stone.

The Town Hall is presently undergoing repairs and is expected to reopen next March – but not so the stadium.

Jade (by then called AMI) Stadium was for a time thought to be repairable, but in 2016 the Christchurch City Council decided the $225m-$275m price tag was too high, and opted instead to build a new multi-sports amenity and covered stadium, Nga Puna Wai, in Addington Halswell.

That facility is now nearing completion with the Athletics Track being the first to be completed and opened with the local athletics community holding their first meeting in October on its new all-weather running track.

Because the stadium was so hemmed in by houses and businesses in the central city suburb of Waltham, Luney pre-cast the 300-odd giant concrete components of the stand, some weighing hundreds of tonnes, at his Maces Road depot in nearby Bromley, from where they were trucked to the site.

The estimated cost of demolishing AMI Stadium was just $20 million, and the work began within 18 months of the decision not to repair it, starting with the removal of the Hadlee Stand, followed shortly by the Tui Stand.

Tenders closed before the end of last year for demolition of the Paul Kelly Stand and the adjacent 40m high Deans Stand, with the actual cost of the demolition exercise plunging to just $12 million.

This is because the council, through its project director Lee Butcher, decided on a process that would send only about two percent of the 100,000 tonnes of rubble to landfills, with the balance being recycled.

Around 40,000 tonnes of rubble was utilised at the Nga Puna Wai facility, and many of Charles Luney’s giant pre-cast Paul Kelly Stand components will potentially end up in Lyttelton Harbour as the base for wharf extensions there.

Some 68,000 cubic metres of concrete and steel are above ground, and the council may make a further saving by abandoning most of the underground 30,000m3 where it is, leaving a flat site for whatever re-development is eventually decided on.

“It’d be quite a large civil project just pulling those foundations out,” Lee tells Contractor.

“When we have a clearer view of what the land may be used for, we might be able to back off some of those foundations – we don’t want to go to the expense of pulling them up if we don’t need to.”

The future use of the 7200m2 site is determined by the Christchurch City Council (Lancaster Park) Land Vesting Act 2008,  which determined – two years before the quakes – that it be held in trust for cricket, rugby union and other sports, and for recreation, public assembly and ancillary purposes.

This will be a first step towards deciding what to do with the site, whose value remains a matter of guesswork.

But even before it started, the Council had recovered substantial sums of the stadium’s demolition cost by selling salvaged items to a range of re-users near and far: much of the lighting has ended up on a West Coast speedway; the boilers are now heating pools at Franz Josef; 21,000 of the 30,808 seats were sold and the rest recycled for their plastic and steel; cable traps and toilet pans found a ready market; and the reinforcing and 600 tonnes of steel from the stands’ roofs has been sold as scrap. Even the polystyrene insulation above the corporate suites was recycled, saving dumping costs.

A succession of contractors has been through the site on smaller and mostly untendered jobs: CERES NZ did the seat removal; Taggart Earthmoving took care of the soft strip and Tui Stand demolition; Aotea decommissioned the services; Clearwater Construction removed roofs and demolished the public ramp; Scope Group salvaged steel and also helped demolish the public ramp; and Simms and Metal Corp handled the scrap recovery.

Lee says Lancaster Park is the biggest single demolition project he has worked on having completed over 300 demolitions in his career. Of the numerous demolitions undertaken, 300-odd he has overseen since the quakes.

The Council expected the contractor who won the Paul Kelly/Deans Stand demolition tender will start work in the New Year, throughout which no fewer than 4000 truckloads of concrete will be carted off the site.

Old Charlie Luney rests in peace, spared the horror of seeing his life’s work mostly reduced to rubble.