Coptic Church, 24A Railway Road, Sydenham

Fire damage

The former Coptic Church on Railway Road in Sydenham sustained serious damage during a fire on the night of Tuesday 2 May.

Council’s priority is to ensure the safety of staff, contractors and pedestrians.

The police and fire services have undertaken independent investigations into the fire that took place.

The back portion of the building has been heavily damaged and will be demolished immediately.

The rest of the building will be dismantled and items will be salvaged for an interpretation and landscaping installation. It is expected that the demolition of the building will be completed by the end of July and the landscaping and interpretation completed December.

Even before this fire, the building required extensive work – estimated at $5 million – to make it useable.

Reports

The history of the building

The Australian Government handed over the building to Council in 2001.

The building had been out of use for many years and was already in very poor condition.

The church was due to be demolished on 1 May. This was delayed for a week to allow for a final briefing with the Office of Environment and Heritage, which does not oppose the demolition.

Inner West Council and the former Marrickville Council have a long history of trying to find solutions for the Coptic Church.

Council's Administrator met with the Australian Coptic Heritage and Community Services (ACHS) in early March.

At this meeting he agreed to further consider their request for a fifth expression of interest process.

Later that month, Council’s Local Representation Advisory Committee recommended that the proposed demolition continue.

The Coptic Diocese has made no recent approaches to Council opposing the demolition and has previously indicated that it does not have the money available to restore the Church.

Plans for the site

Both Marrickville and Inner West Council have resolved to demolish the building and make the space part of Sydenham Green.

There will be on-site interpretation of the local significance of the site incorporating salvaged elements of the building.

Timeline

  • 1884 – Foundation stone laid for the Tempe Park Methodist Church. Church opens on 20 July 1884
  • 1968 – Church is purchased by the Coptic Church and reconsecrated as St Mary and St Mina’s Coptic Orthodox Church
  • 1995 – Site compulsorily acquired by the Australian Government, as the building lies directly under the flight path of the new third runway. The congregation moves to Bexley
  • 2001 – Government transfers ownership to the then-Marrickville Council
  • 2001 – Council’s advertises Expression of Interest (EOI) for community options to restore and reuse the building (first round)
  • 2001 – Negotiations with Coptic Orthodox Church commence
  • 2004 – Negotiations with Coptic Orthodox Church cease
  • 2004 – Council commissions condition report and costings for refurbishment of the building
  • 2007 – Council estimates that refurbishment will cost $2.3 million
  • 2008 – Interim Heritage Order placed on the building
  • 2008 – Council advertises Expression of Interest (EOI) for community options to restore and reuse the building (second round)
  • 2009 – Council amends Local Environmental Plan to permit broader options for community use of the building
  • 2010 – Council advertises Expression of Interest (EOI) for community options to restore and reuse the building (third round)
  • 2010 – Council reopens negotiations with Coptic Orthodox Church
  • 2010 – Coptic Orthodox Church cannot establish financial capacity to carry out the EOI proposal
  • 2011 – Council resolves to demolish the building
  • 2012 – Council grants development consent to demolish the building
  • 2013 – Coptic Orthodox Church meets with Council and provides a letter showing they have financial capacity to make another EOI proposal
  • 2013 – Council advertises Expression of Interest (EOI) for community options to restore and reuse the building (fourth round)
  • 2013 – Council reopens negotiations with Coptic Orthodox Church
  • 2015 – Coptic Orthodox Church withdraws from the EOI process
  • 2015 – heritage review supports demolition provided an interpretation of the significance of the site is undertaken and incorporates conservation of specified salvaged elements and an archival recording
  • 2015 – Council resolves on 4 August 2015 to demolish the building, provide landscaping and interpretation of the significance of the site
  • 2015 – Most senior Coptic Church leader in Australia, Bishop Daniel, acknowledges that both he and His Holiness the Coptic Orthodox Pope have agreed there are more important uses for the Church’s monies than saving the building
  • 2015 – Demolition development consent granted. Tenderer appointed
  • 2015 – Council conducts extensive community engagement, collecting stories, memories and images from the local community and the Coptic and Methodist communities to inform the interpretation
  • 2015 – Contractor establishes on site ready to commence demolition. Council receives an Interim Heritage Order (IHO) from the Minister of Heritage
  • 2016 – NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OE&H) resolves to not list the former Coptic Church on the NSW State Heritage Register
  • 2016 – Council estimates that refurbishment will cost $5 million
     

Photos of fire damage

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