Jubilee Park used to be Northland's premier rugby league ground, but has now fallen into disrepair with an uncertain future. In the final piece of a three-part investigation, reporter Adam Pearse talks to those with a hand to play in the park's future.
A high-performance sports academy is being considered for Whangārei's decrepit rugby league ground, Jubilee Park.
With the park's future uncertain, neighbouring education provider Te Kāpehu Whetū has revealed its hopes for a sports academy to be built next to its early childhood centre and primary school.
Read more: Jubilee Park: Whangārei's waste of space
Te Kāpehu Whetū's early childhood centre, Mokopuna, was built on the Tarewa Rd site in 2001 after a lease agreement was reached with Jubilee Park owners, Whangārei City and Districts Rugby League Incorporated.
A primary school was built on the same site in 2015 with Te Kāpehu Whetū hoping for further expansion.
Board chairwoman Kaye Taylor said discussions with the owners to lease or purchase the rest of the park had been under way for about eight years with no result.
Taylor said she was in talks with Whangārei City and Districts Rugby League Incorporated co-director Sharon Bird over her sports academy proposal and was committed to seeing her dream realised.
"[Whangārei City and Districts Rugby League Incorporated] need to actually pick their game up and lease the park to us. We are even willing to buy it," Taylor said.
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"If it was up for sale, we'd buy it because we see it as an extension of the development of what we want for us our kids and the community."
Options for Taylor's plan included a full upgrade of the main field, building an indoor netball and basketball facility as well as an outdoor covered area, a gym space with offices and a kitchen, and possibly a swimming pool.
"I don't see a ground being developed over there anymore, it's just not feasible. What I do see, is the development of a sports academy," she said.
"We're dreamers and the facility is a waste in its current form. The way we support is through education and if we had the whole park, we could create a beautiful facility."
Currently, a group of five people are living in the ground's disused grandstand. Taylor confirmed anyone living at Jubilee Park would have to leave, as the grandstand would likely be demolished in the renovation process.
Taylor emphasised the facility would not just be used by pupils at Mokopuna or the primary school, and it would be open to a variety of sporting codes and organisations to use in some capacity.
She said making the facility open to rugby league clubs and youth teams would be a priority.
Whangārei City and Districts Rugby League Incorporated's Sharon Bird said she was aware of Taylor's proposal and confirmed it was not the only offer on the table but would not elaborate.
However, Bird said Taylor's plan of a sports academy was an attractive offer considering its potential benefits to Northland rugby league.
"I can see the benefits for rugby league as well and our community needs this," she said.
"Sports is a major factor for any young kid growing up, so I would love to see something sports-related there."
Bird explained the last eight years of discussions had yielded no results partly because she had always hoped to see Jubilee Park return to its former glory as the home of rugby league in Northland.
However, Bird acknowledged the park's deterioration had accelerated in the last couple of years, marked by a 2016 fire which razed the clubrooms.
While a number of purchase offers for Jubilee Park had been considered in the past, Bird said breakdowns in communication with both potential buyers and New Zealand Rugby League legal staff had impaired any attempt to sell or lease the park.
Bird said she hoped current negotiations with Taylor and other interested parties would go smoothly.
"There was a lot of breakdown I suppose and I'll take responsibility for some of it.
"At the end of the day, it's what we are doing today that matters most and I think the negotiations that I'm doing are a lot further ahead than we have been in the past."
Rugby League Northland general manager Phil Marsh said a similar sports academy initiative had been trialled about four years ago at NorthTec by the Lowie Foundation but had run out funding and was no longer held.
Marsh said for any high performance facility to have true benefit for the youth, it needed to involve professional clubs in New Zealand or Australia to ensure young players and coaching staff knew what standard was required.
Marsh said he was most in favour of options which offered benefits to local clubs, particularly recognising those struggling financially.