Report – Public meeting for the rebuild of St Peter’s 11th January 2017

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There was unanimous appreciation of the new church building design presented by John Alexander at the public meeting held by the PCC on the 11th January.

John opened his presentation, to the ninety-strong audience, with a brief statement about the basic ethos behind the design stating that “the new building will respect and reflect the heritage of the old building whilst including twenty first century facilities”, as requested from the previous June’s public meeting, “and anything that can be reasonably retained from the old building, will be, and anything that can be restored, will be.” The design shows the development of the church as it grew with the Ropley population, the latest building modifications, done in Victorian times, and its eight-hundred-year heritage, whilst maintaining the south facing street scene as close as possible to that before the fire.

During the hour long presentation John recapped parts of the previous meeting’s presentation to explain why some of the building techniques are being proposed, and how the new building fits within and around the old building without using the old building for structural support. He also explained that the biggest “unknown” is still the wall restoration, particularly on the west wall which is the most badly damaged and hardest to repair. Where there is a historical requirement to retain damaged walls rather than to repair them, such as the old vestry where the walls are leaning out and have no foundations, John has designed a special internal floor structure that can bear a replacement wall when that has to be done. Restoration of the damaged walls and stone doors and windows is going to be a significant cost in the rebuild of the church.

Moving on to the new building, John showed the new floor layout. Where the pre-fire church had a row of columns running the length of the nave and a chancel arch there is now an open area with unrestricted views from the whole nave. As requested by the majority of responses to the questionnaire, the church is laid out to be both flexible and multi-use. To reflect the history of the Victorian north extension, John has designed a new war memorial in the form of a bronze light fixture which runs the length of the nave where the old colonnade and roof gulley would have been. This shines light directly to the floor and highlights positions where the columns would have been. At the same time it shines up to the ceiling and also out into the nave through the names of the war dead, cut into the bronze. The whole effect of this layout and design is to give unbroken sight lines whilst reflecting the history of the inside of the church and to introduce a new war memorial.

As well as recreating the new area for worship there are new facilities provided by an extension to the north. The extension has been designed to follow the direction of the footpath and provide all of the modern features that were requested, without disturbing the tomb at the north east corner of the church. The extension provides a larger entrance and draught lobby, two toilets, and office / vestry, a galley style kitchen area, a storage room and an externally accessible plant room. The extension itself is connected to the old building by a glass panel, to show separation between the old and the new. The extension will be of a bronze and stone clad construction.

The bell tower is also planned for rebuild. The timbers in the tower were burned beyond structural use but the ground floor ends of the main oak pillars can be left in place, once cleaned of about thirty millimetres of damage per face, to show the old construction of the tower. To support the upper floors John has devised a steel structure that fits between the old pillars, forms a cantilever construction over the stone part of the tower, and supports an oak bell chamber. The new tower construction will have a flower / storage room on the ground floor, stairs to the ringing chamber, an upper level containing the plant for the air source heat pump, heat exchanger and clock and above that the bells.

Temperature within the building will be controlled by underfloor heating and an air handling system to move the hotter air from near the ceiling to the lower levels. The roof lights in the north of the nave and community room will also be opening, should that be required. Modern standards of insulation will be used throughout the new parts of the building and insulation will be improved wherever possible.

The new nave ceiling has also been carefully designed for both aesthetics and purpose. Reflecting the wooden flooring and the laminated timber pillars and roof beams the ceiling uses a custom wood design that enhances the roof shape whilst disguising the reverberation tuning, the facilities ducting and the necessary lighting and speakers.

In concluding his presentation. John showed a process timeline from the meeting to the final build.  The next step will be to submit the plans for faculty and planning permission, a process that may take many months. Cathy Roberts, the Head of DAC, added an explanation of some of the complexities of the process. Once approvals are complete final drawings and building regulations can be done and the building project put to tender.

A question and answer session then followed. Questions ranged from budget provision through building regulations to the provision of broadband. One attendee addressed his question to the room asking if anyone had any objections to what had been presented; no one had.

The meeting was brought to a close by the Archdeacon who expressed his hope that the community would get behind what he thought was an inspiring rebuild and that, once built, everyone would make full use of the church.

Andy Bonner