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Plan to give courthouse to community

Source: Otago Daily Times

A trust that hopes to buy the former Lawrence courthouse from its new Auckland owners and turn it into a multipurpose centre says it is a bit ‘‘gob-smacked'' that its long-held dream may soon come true.

The category one building on the list of Heritage New Zealand's historic places was sold to a couple from Auckland in mid-December last year, following the death in 2014 of its previous owner, Dunedinlawyer Mike Newell.

Speaking for the Newell family, Mr Newell's ex-wife Sarah Kalmakoff said the sale of the property brought closure for Mr Newell's adult children.

‘‘The property is back with the community, where it belongs, which is what Michael wanted.''

Ms Kalmakoff said she understood the new owners, who did not want to be identified, intended to almost ‘‘gift'' the property to the Lawrence community by selling it at a discounted rate to the Lawrence Heritage Trust, which manages other heritage buildings in the area.

Trust chairman Roger Cotton confirmed negotiations to buy the courthouse were under way.

‘‘They've given the trust the opportunity to buy it off them and get it back into the community.''

He hoped to have a deal finalised within 12 months.

The owners removed the uncertainty for the courthouse's future, he said.

‘‘It's almost like a dream come true and a bit gob-smacking.''

Mr Cotton said it was nice knowing there were people willing to help, even if they did not have a connection to the area.Lawrence courthouse

He said the trust had previously attempted to buy the courthouse but was unsuccessful. A significant amount of work needed to be done on the property to ensure it did not become a ruin.

If negotiations were successful, Mr Cotton would like to see the building restored so it could be used as a multipurpose centre.

Even with fundraising, it would be years before that could happen.

Heritage New Zealand Southland and Otago area manager Jonathan Howard said the priority was to get a ‘‘real grasp'' of the work needed to be done to the building.

He was involved with helping Ms Kalmakoff find a satisfactory buyer for the property.

‘‘It's been a really great team effort.''

The sale was ideal, and he hoped it would continue to enable a positive future for the building.

Ms Kalmakoff said she was grateful the buyers were such heritage advocates and were willing to on-sell it to the trust.

‘‘I think it's in good hands.''

If the negotiations were successful, the result would mean everyone would get the opportunity to appreciate the building, she said.

‘‘It's great to be a part of such a good outcome.''