Courthouse Doors Open After Seven Years and Repairs

4/10/2018 12:00 a.m.

couthouse interiorHard to believe now, but Oamaru was once a veritable wild west of bad behaviour and larrikinism, described as ‘that drunken metropolis’ and ‘the best crime-producing district in Otago’ by newspapers of the time. The discovery of gold in the Lindis didn’t help matters, although the temperance movement of the 1880s calmed things down a tad. These days most Oamaruvians wouldn’t have seen the inside of the town’s courthouse, let alone the cells attached, but in colonial 1878 there were 625 criminal cases in Oamaru, resulting in 420 convictions - a whopping 13% of the town’s population had spent some time in the dock or the pokey.

Oamaru’s courthouse was built in just a year from 1882-3 by architect firm Forrester and Lemon and widely considered their masterpiece. At the time, Oamaru was becoming famous for the large and handsome, intricately-carved limestone structures populating the main street, none finer than this fluted fixture, which was suddenly closed in late 2011 after being classed as earthquake prone. Court services were relocated to the nearby Oamaru Opera House and then to a portable facility known as the ‘porta-court’ in Humber Street in 2014. 

After several years of negotiation, the Waitaki District Council took possession of the building in 2016 in a deal to lease it back to the Ministry of Justice for court services. The strengthening and refurbishment work started earlier this year and took nine months. It was completed within the $900,000 budgeted for it, funded through the council’s endowment fund. Work included steel strengthening rods installed throughout the building, the roof replaced, interior repainted and the layout of the courthouse reconfigured.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said, “Getting to this point of reopening the strengthened and refurbished courthouse has consumed a lot of time for our staff and Councillor team. It is being held one week short of the fifth anniversary of my election as Mayor. It was a challenge that I, and our Councillor team, inherited at that time and it has taken a considerable amount of discussions and work by many people to get us to this point. The result is a tribute to our community’s persistence, and the willingness of the Ministry to work with us towards a good result.”

“Waitaki deserved better than either a ‘porta-court’, or a move of our court services from Oamaru, and together we have had a real win/win. Special tribute goes to Bill Dean who pushed back against the initial, extraordinary engineer’s estimate of strengthening cost, and who funded the alternate engineer’s report. I also want to thank MP Jacqui Dean, who has worked away in the background at Parliament to get a positive result for Waitaki. Lastly, I want to commend the Council team for their work in following through with our wish to retain this magnificent building in community ownership, and to retain court services in Oamaru. It has simply been an incredible result of dedication and resilience!”

Page reviewed: 16 Oct 2018 3:09pm