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Coming together .. The historic Phoenix Mill water wheel is being restored at its original site in Old Mill Rd. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Work to restore the historic Phoenix Mill water wheel at its Old Mill Rd site is progressing well.

Installed 139 years ago, the wheel is being given a new lease of life thanks to the Phoenix Mill Restoration Trust, which was established by former North Otago resident Richard Pringle about six years ago.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, a member of the trust which also includes Carol Berry and Alan McLay, said much had been achieved since work started in May.

“We’ve got to the stage now where we’ve got all the buckets of the wheel back together and there’s been a bit of work done around sealing them and getting them a bit tidier.

“A fair bit of the timber work has been happening and we certainly have a very keen group of volunteers who’ve been throwing themselves into the project and have made good progress in a very short time.”

He said “completely new timber” was being used, which would look authentic when it aged and ensured it was structurally sound.

A conservation plan to revitalise the wheel, formulated with Heritage New Zealand, did not allow for full restoration, but Mr Kircher believed that would not diminish its final appearance.

“It’s about arresting the deterioration and making sure it’s structurally sound. People need to understand it’s part of how these things are put back together. It should look how it looked for many, many years.”

While there was some debate about where the wheel should be located after it was restored – Friendly Bay was one proposed site – Mr Kircher felt it was best suited to its original site.

“There has been some arguments about whether it should be put somewhere else, but I think it’s very accessible and it’s in the place where it used to work.”

A plan to enhance the former industrial area was also in the pipeline, Mr Kircher said.

“We’re looking at how we landscape the area and make it a great place for people and families to go and visit again. We’re looking at developing a car parking area, a walkway, a bit of a deck and doing a bit of planting.”

The actual cost of the project is just over $99,000.

The trust secured a grant of $80,000, while the Waitaki District Council committed $10,000 in September 2015 and another $10,000 as part of the 2017-18 annual plan.

Mr Kircher was not involved in the decision-making process around council funding, as he is a trustee.

In 2011, the wheel – 10m in diameter – was dismantled and placed in storage in a historic freezer building, where its parts remained until late 2015 before being relocated.

The wheel was installed in 1878 and used to power the mill. The mill building was removed in 1905.