‘Concern and uncertainty’: Will beloved community hall be demolished or not?

6:49 am on 1 March 2024
Mamaku residents are outraged their community hall is due to be demolished. 22 February 2024 The Daily Post Photo / Andrew Warner

Mamaku residents after hearing their hall was slated for demolition. Photo: The Daily Post / Andrew Warner

Rotorua Lakes Council says it has not made a final decision to demolish a beloved rural community hall.

That is despite a council sign on the door stating "the hall will need to be removed" and a public meeting presentation stating "plans are underway for the demolition".

The building's fate was the subject of last week's rural community board meeting, which left Mamaku residents reeling when they were told long-term issues at the hall were beyond repair.

Councillors Karen Barker and Conan O'Brien attended and told Local Democracy Reporting they understood from that meeting Mamaku War Memorial Hall would be demolished.

The council now says, however, demolition is recommended but no final decision has been made.

The council has been assessing building conditions at all 10 of its community halls. The Mamaku and Reporoa community halls closed in December after inspections.

The notice put on the Mamaku Hall following the rural community board meeting in February. Photo / Laura Smith LDR single use

The notice put on the Mamaku Hall following the rural community board meeting in February. Photo: LDR / Laura Smith

Criticisms of neglect and substandard repairs were levelled at last week's meeting by members of the respective communities. The building survey of the Mamaku Hall included findings of structural integrity impacts.

The council's presentation said invasive testing found floor joists "disintegrated with touch … barely anything holding it together".

Water damage and black mould throughout the hall was beyond repair.

The testing concluded asbestos should be removed and the building demolished.

One presentation slide headed "next steps" said: "Plans are underway for the demolition of the Mamaku Hall."

Signs were placed outside the Mamaku Hall following the community hearing it would be demolished. Photo / Laura Smith - LDR single use

Signs were placed outside the Mamaku hall following the community hearing it would be demolished. Photo: LDR / Laura Smith

It said the council would consider what could be recovered for future use and work to determine "the best course of action".

When O'Brien raised the hall at a full council meeting that followed on Wednesday, corporate services group manager Thomas Collé said no decision had been made to demolish the building - only that it had been recommended.

While he said its consultant was "incredibly good", a local builder had offered to provide a second opinion - something resident Rachel Matthews asked for last week.

Issues at the building developed over "10 to 20 years", Collé said.

He also said the council was making a plan to have Reporoa's hall opened as soon as possible.

Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting after the meeting, rural ward councillor Barker said in her view the communication discrepancy over the Mamaku hall's fate caused "a lot of concern and uncertainty" in the community.

Rural ward councillor Karen Barker. Photo / Laura Smith LDR image single use

Councillor Karen Barker. Photo: LDR / Laura Smith

She said this could have been avoided if the council had been clearer, more inclusive and understanding of the building's importance.

The board planned to hold a community information meeting in Mamaku soon, with an opportunity for questions about the assessments.

"The council's next steps will be observed closely by the rural communities of the Rotorua district, and I would hope that, along with the completion of this review of the condition of halls, the council will take some steps to improve the way we manage and monitor these key community buildings."

Barker previously said she understood further reports would come to councillors on the future of the hall, including replacement options.

O'Brien said he had since told Collé of a council notice at the hall advising plans were underway for the hall's removal.

O'Brien said, in his personal view, the subject had been "poorly handled".

Rotorua Lakes Councillor Conan O'Brien. Photo / Laura Smith LDR single use

Councillor Conan O'Brien. Photo: LDR / Laura Smith

"It raises very important questions around the council's maintenance and asset management systems."

He hoped work underway on all the community halls enabled a full and detailed overview of their states of fitness and would go "someway to restoring the rural communities' trust in council".

Mayor Tania Tapsell told Local Democracy Reporting she acknowledged the news came as a "shock to many" and she knew the importance of the halls.

Safe and reliable infrastructure, along with health and safety, were top priority.

Tapsell said it was saddening the "Mamaku Hall has structural damage that is unrepairable".

"Although the building report recommends demolition, I can reassure the community that options will come back to the council before a final decision is made. I expect this to include options of what to do with the building, including what the cost and timeframes of this may be."

Rotorua Lakes Council interim chief executive Gina Rangi. Photo / Laura Smith - LDR single use

Rotorua Lakes Council interim chief executive Gina Rangi. Photo: LDR / Laura Smith

Rotorua Lakes Council interim chief executive Gina Rangi said the council understood the vital role of the hall.

"Sadly it's beyond repair and based on the reports that we have reopening isn't feasible.

"A final decision of what will happen to the hall will be made once all options have been explored and reported to [the] council for their direction on how we should proceed."

Information was being prepared to report to the council, community board and Mamaku residents in the "next few months".

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.