This letter is just as relevant today as when it was sent in 2009.

“Unfortunately however, the growing general perception among members and non-members (including local and national government officials), is that rather than give these matters due diligence, and pass relevant information and requests up-line as appropriate, the Area Presidency seems to have put up a road-block for all such communications regardless of contradictory evidence or public opinion, in favor of pushing through the decision.”

Excerpt from this letter sent in 2009


 

2009

To whom it may concern,


As a directly affected Temple View resident, I have been following the events and communications concerning the decisions to close, and subsequently demolish the Church College of New Zealand, with considerable interest.

Although like many I am saddened by the closure, I can reconcile myself with the Church’s decision in favor of funding those in more needy circumstances. However, I am somewhat troubled by the decision to demolish the buildings, and the supporting reasons given have unfortunately raised more questions than answers.

Most importantly however, as a devout Church member I am experiencing considerable internal conflict between my desire to support Church leaders, and the injustice I feel at the lack of involvement, unidirectional approach, closed-minded attitude, and even lack of respect by some towards those directly affected by these decisions.

I am even aware of Church members who, because of their quest for honest answers and genuine consideration of alternatives, have been challenged in their religious devotion and firmly directed by church leaders to cease hindering the Church’s plans. As a consequence I feel compelled to remain anonymous, although the necessity deeply saddens me.

With all due respect, the fact that the Prophet has accepted the recommendation to demolish doesn’t necessarily exclude the possibility that other options might be equally acceptable. It certainly would not justify the seemingly inappropriate manner in which church representatives have and still are handling certain aspects of this process.

I have fervently sought a spiritual confirmation of the appropriateness of the decision and events, but unfortunately I have not yet received the burning in my bosom that I seek. Consequently, I am trying to follow the counsel given in D&C 9:7-8, to first study it out in my mind. To this end I humbly request your assistance in obtaining answers to the questions and concerns outlined below, and pray that they will lead to the burning in my bosom that I seek.

It is my understanding that from the first official announcement, Church representatives have put forward three main reasons to support the decision to close and consequently demolish the Church College of New Zealand campus, namely: cost, safety, and control.

Cost

The primary reason given for the decision to close the school was that “the continued growth of the Church internationally requires the Church to constantly re-assess how its resources are targeted. Given the ready access that Church members have to high quality government schooling throughout New Zealand, there is no longer a need for the Church to provide non-religious education to its young members. We can now concentrate our efforts in other areas, such as the Pacific Islands, where local communities can gain greater benefit from Church assistance.” 1 , 2

One of the most important contributing cost factors was that “seismic upgrading as well as other upgrading and maintenance would create a huge cost in the tens of millions, a ‘financial black hole’ the church was not willing to bear.” 3

Further reasoning included that “currently, only approximately 10 percent of eligible Latter-day Saint youth attend CCNZ.” 2 Unfortunately, this does not appear to take into account the fact that at maximum capacity the school is only capable of catering to 10% of the New Zealand LDS youth, and that the vast majority of the remaining 90% simply live too far away to make attendance possible/affordable.

Safety and control issues were submitted as supporting reasons for the subsequent decision to demolish rather than re-use the buildings.

Safety

A 2003 engineering report led the Church to believe that the buildings as a whole were badly designed, badly constructed and were dangerous. The report suggested that the buildings needed substantial structural modifications to meet revised seismic safety requirements. They also needed extensive backdated maintenance, at an estimated cost of $40-60 million. Leaving the buildings empty wasn’t considered an option either, because the Church didn’t want “an approach to the temple to be one of passing empty and derelict buildings.” 1

It is interesting to note however, that two more recent reports, (one by engineering firm Beca, Carter, Hollings and Ferner and another by independent chartered engineer Evan Bydder), apparently raise serious questions regarding the accuracy and completeness of the original report. Both note that “legally the buildings do not require earthquake strengthening under building legislation.” 3

Control

Relinquishing ownership or control over the buildings to another organization (including the government) was not considered an option either, because the Church did not “want the buildings to be used for a purpose that was not conducive to our values.” 1 , 4

Although arguably most local New Zealand residents – including non-members – would have preferred to see the continuance of CCNZ as a Church-run school, most seem to have accepted that there are indeed people and places in the world needier than in New Zealand. However, when it comes to the arguments for demolition, feelings are clearly much less understanding and sympathetic. 5

Based on the reasons given, the following questions beg to be answered:

1. If the primary issue is indeed the cost, then why not simply gift the school (as is) to the government for use as a state school, especially when government representatives have repeatedly expressed interest in discussing such an option? In fact, why have repeated requests from NZ government officials for open dialogue with Church decision makers simply been dismissed? As indicated in the introduction to the closure of the school, the gifting of unwanted Church owned (educational) facilities has been very common practice.

Alternatively, why not make it available to a private party for use as a state-funded but LDS value based special character school, especially when they have expressed willingness to even pay for the property and any required maintenance and modifications? 6

Both these options would spare the Church the considerable cost of demolition, and the latter would actually provide extra revenue; facts certainly worth serious consideration in the current financial climate.
2. Why have the findings of a recent independent engineering report been flippantly dismissed as “inaccurate, inconsistent and not worthy of further comment”? 7

The report was compiled by a highly qualified engineer, and raises serious questions as to the accuracy and conclusions of the report on which the Church had based its decision to demolish. It not only asserts that the main buildings actually already meet the current seismic safety requirements, but also that any discretionary modifications and maintenance would likely cost only a fraction of the Church’s cost estimate for demolition and “beautification”. 8

Considering the implied opportunity to not only save millions of sacred tithing dollars, but also save buildings clearly considered by the public to have a high heritage value, it would seem such claims would be worth serious investigation and open discussion.

3. Although admittedly some of the maintenance has been allowed to fall into arrears, if the state of the buildings is indeed as unsafe and unsuitable as claimed, why then is the school currently still in operation? Wouldn’t that mean that the safety of students and staff is currently also at risk?

4. If the risk of possible non-conducive activities in close proximity to the temple is such an important issue, why offer land for an uncontrolled state school directly across the road and in full view of the temple, when the main CCNZ school buildings are almost half a kilometer removed and separated from the temple by residential housing and a green buffer zone? In fact, why suggest future residential development of the site when that would clearly be contrary to the expressed desire to maintain control over activities conducted in the area. Why not simply gift, sell, or lease the property under protective covenants that exclude non-conducive activities?

I find it interesting to note that most temples around the world are actually situated in the middle of uncontrolled residential, industrial, or commercial locations, and do not enjoy nearly as much shielding from their temporal surroundings as the NZ temple does.

It is quite conceivable that the closure and demolition of the school will lead to a substantial exodus of affiliated Temple View residents to seek employment elsewhere. This would not only negatively impact property values but may also lead to the influx of more residents who do not share the same LDS values and beliefs. On the other hand, allowing for the CCNZ facilities to be used as a state funded special character school, would actually increase the likelihood of the continuance of an LDS value focus, both at the school and in the Temple View community.

5. The announcement to close the school stated that the decision was made “after years of exhaustive study, public input, and discussion among church and community leaders.” 9 Similarly, the announcement to demolish claimed that “the consultation process has been wide and detailed.” Considering that Temple View residents, Temple View church leaders, and Hamilton City Council officials, (i.e. all those directly affected), have all indicated that they had no prior knowledge of these decisions, who then was included in these discussions and consultations, and why not the affected public?

More importantly, if “sitting in these councils are leaders who know and love New Zealand and who have intimate knowledge of CCNZ and Temple View,” and if they “acted in full possession of all the facts,” and if they have “an interest in Temple View, and in doing all that we can to play our full part in the community,” 10 why then did the Church initially petition the Hamilton City Counsel to avoid the public submissions process in obtaining demolition resource consent?

And why are local area church leaders/representatives subsequently completely unreceptive to any attempt to seriously discuss soundly underpinned win-win alternatives with anyone, including government officials?

6. It is my understanding that any communications or requests for discussion on the matter, addressed to the First Presidency and/or top decision makers at Church Headquarters, are being deferred to the Pacific Area Presidency before they receive the attention of the intended addressee. Considering the global scale of the Church, it is certainly understandable that local leaders form an initial filter, and where appropriate, try to deal with matters locally before referring matters up-line.

Unfortunately however, the growing general perception among members and non-members (including local and national government officials), is that rather than give these matters due diligence, and pass relevant information and requests up-line as appropriate, the Area Presidency seems to have put up a road-block for all such communications regardless of contradictory evidence or public opinion, in favor of pushing through the decision.

Assuming that otherwise God would certainly have intervened, I can accept that the decision to demolish may not be directly contrary to the will of the Lord. However, is it not conceivable that (like in so many cases) there may actually be more than one acceptable answer/option regarding the future of the CCNZ facilities? Is it not conceivable that, if put to the Lord, he might actually consider an alternative decision equally acceptable?

Considering that our prophets rely in their temporal decision making on information from fallible subject matter experts, and considering the flood of conflicting evidence, and considering the substantial influence for good (or bad) on public opinion, wouldn’t it stand to reason that these maters be carefully and transparently reviewed by the leading body of the Church.

Even if the final decision were to still be in favor of proceeding with the demolition, a public demonstration of due diligence and substantiated reasoning (clearly outweighing any contradictory evidence and alternative options), would at least put many minds at ease and build rather than detract from public goodwill.

References:

1. Philip Hague (LDS spokesman) – Official Media Release, 22 July 2008

2. Elder W. Rolfe Kerr – Church News, 8 July 2006

3. Anthony Wilson (LDS spokesman) – Waikato Times, 20 May 2009

4. Philip Hague (LDS spokesman) – Salt Lake Tribune, 13 June 2009

5. Waikato Times, 22 May 2009
Note: the “poll” mentioned was in the form of written submissions addressed to the Hamilton City Mayor, and results were obtained from the Hamilton City Council.

6. Waikato Times, 29 June 2009

7. Anthony Wilson (LDS spokesman) – Waikato Times, 20 May 2009

8. Church College of New Zealand July 2009 Engineering report

9. Scott Trotter (LDS spokesman) – Salt Lake Tribune, 13 June 2009

10. Pacific Area Presidency – Community Update on CCNZ Site in Temple View, May 200 9

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