Major earthworks begin this week as the first stage of the construction of the long-awaited Tauranga Riding for the Disabled indoor arena in Welcome Bay begins.
Earlier this month the project was given the green light thanks to a $300,000 community funding boost from Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust, adding to the $75,000 seed capital raised at the 2009 Tauranga Police CIB Charity Auction.
The $750,000 arena is being built on Department of Conservation-owned land by Tauranga company Belvedere Construction is on track to be completed by Christmas. Belvedere Construction owner Trevor Wilkinson's son has autism and is a regular participant at Riding for the Disabled. On Saturday RDA trustees, major sponsors and other supporters, volunteers and local iwi gathered on site to celebrate the next major milestone in the 35-year history of Tauranga Riding for the Disabled as Mayor Stuart Crosby took the controls of small digger to turn the first sod.
TDA Charitable Trust chairman Frank Vosper said it did not matter whether donations to the project were $5, $5000 or $300,000 as every donation counted. He said the fantastic community response from individuals, community groups and businesses had allowed trustees to move forward to complete the anxiously awaited arena, which will benefit so many people. "It's been amazing how generous people have been and no one really took much persuading, once they were told what the project was all about."
Tauranga RDA chief executive Kat Macmillan said seeing the first sod turned and knowing earthworks are only days away from starting was like seeing "a dream come true".
"This is a very special day for us and everyone concerned is so excited."
The first stage of the project was to erect a steel structure, which would take about six weeks.
By the end of August the riding for disabled programme would re-commence in an outside field. Mrs Macmillan said the rest of the money needed was expected to come through over the next five months by pledges and other fundraising efforts.
Ngati Pukenga iwi leader Awanui Black, who blessed the site, said the new outdoor arena was being built on land scared to his iwi because it was part of an old Pa site and is close to an urupa [burial site].
He said RDA and iwi working together was a significant step in helping strengthen relations between the parties. Mr Crosby said the project would not have been possible without a strong team of people who believed in the vision from the start and have worked tirelessly to make it happen. "The generosity of people of Tauranga staggers me every day."