heritage restoration

A major restoration has breathed life into a 125-year-old schoolhouse in Perth. 

The Sister Martin Kelly Centre at MercyCare’s Wembley campus first opened in 1893 and was built by the Sisters of Mercy as a schoolhouse for the Subiaco Boys’ Orphanage. The schoolhouse sat unused for decades before the decision was made to bring it back to its former condition. 

heritage restoration

Heritage architect Jonathan Strauss was hired by MercyCare to oversee the project. According to Strauss, the project provided some unique and complex challenges. 

“The restoration and reconstruction of the blue and clear glass operable windows required painstaking work by highly trained and experienced carpenters, joiners and glaziers,” says Strauss.

“About 40 percent of the original glass was salvaged, cleaned and reinstalled in the same location. The blue glass is thought to have been a French fabricated coloured signal glass, which varies in shade from pane to pane and has a number of imperfections including bubbles and ripples.

heritage restoration

"The new clear glass had to be heat treated so that it included some of the visual distortion visible within the original glass. The results of this careful work are exceptional, with the glass a spectacular highlight of the building."

heritage restoration

According to Strauss, installing modern touches in a 125 year old building was also a major challenge.

“The building is simply constructed using rubble limestone load-bearing walls and a ceiling following the pitch of the roof with exposed trusses, which means there are no wall cavities or ceiling space to conceal piping and wiring,” he says.

“The integration of contemporary lighting, air conditioning, audio visual systems, fire alarm and exit signage without making non-reversible alterations to the basic building structure required careful coordination of the services, which were concealed with crafted carpentry.”   

“The project has been a meticulous restoration, with great attention to detail to try to capture the spiritual and historic context of the building,” adds MercyCare interim CEO David Holden. 

"The late Sister Martin Kelly worked tirelessly for a better future for disadvantaged children, and this restoration is a fitting tribute to her memory.” 

The project was awarded the Professor David Dolan Award by the WA Heritage Council, and also won the WA Master Builders Association Best Historic Restoration Award. 

MercyCare is continuing with planning for conservation works to the Benedictine Stables, which is the oldest agrarian building in the Perth metropolitan area.