Bell tolls change for Chalmers

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THE bell tower inside the iconic 1824 Chalmers Church goes up, and up, and up.

Century-old ladders lead up four levels until you reach the top of the sandstone steeple, where a 360 degree view of Launceston greets the climber.

It's a view that Walker Designs owner Graeme Walker should never get sick of.

He and wife Jodie purchased the heritage listed convict-built church more than two years ago, with plans to redevelop the site and relocate their thriving graphic design business.

The "flamboyant, Gothic Revival" building is quite possibly one of the most photographed sites in Launceston, and as we look out from the arched windows, people below look up with intrigue.

The stage one interior redevelopment, with expected costs of more than $500,000, is under way, but Mr Walker said no decision had been made regarding the building's exterior; it is not known whether it will be painted or kept in its current state.

He said the interior plan would use the "inspirational" top floor as the main office area.

Desks would sit along one wall, and a boardroom, reception and waiting areas would be created by free- standing rooms with glass walls and contemporary petitions, leaving the beams and church roof exposed.

Mr Walker said his new office would sit in the lower echelons of the bell tower, accessible via a new staircase, and would overlook the space below.

The ground floor would be converted into production and training rooms.

Mr Walker said a restaurant business model for the ground floor had been considered, but rejected.

"I obviously feel proud to own such a building," Mr Walker said.

"We sometimes stay here overnight and you're walking through town seeing this big tower and you're thinking, `I can't believe we own that. How did we end up with this again'?"

The creative Mr Walker said he was looking for a warehouse when he had an epiphany about the old church.

"As soon as I walked upstairs I knew I had to have it," he said.

"The inside surprises you because it is such a big contrast to the outside. All the [stained-glass] windows are in excellent condition and from the outside you don't see their colour."

Mr Walker said there were mixed opinions about the facade.

"Half the public say, `I can't wait to see it all fixed and painted', and the other half say, `you're not going to paint it, are you?"'

Mr Walker said he was nervous and excited about the redevelopment.

"There definitely would have been easier paths, and we will encounter problems, but at the end of the day I don't think there would have been any buildings as rewarding as this."

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