Foxton MAVTech is ready to step into the 21st Century.

It has developed a plan to improve the overall MAVTech experience and pull in the younger generations, configure the hall it uses into a cultural hub with multi-use spaces including a stage for live music and theatre, and a cafe.

Plans also include development of displays of audio visual materials, which includes numerous gramophone players, televisions and radio sets, into something better appreciated by younger people.

MAVTech possesses much of New Zealand's audio visual history that can be used to show people how things used to be done or how technology progressed through the generations.

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A new stage in front of the cinema screen can be used for live performances of music and theatre. A dining area is also contemplated as well as improved facilities for Radio Foxton 105.4 FM, which broadcasts from the building.

The 1927 building on Avenue Rd, opposite Ihakara Gardens and beside the old Court House, is often referred to as the Coronation Hall and was at some stage also used as the town hall. MAVTech board chair Jim Harper said it had always been a cinema and was built with for that purpose.

"No-one was crowned king or queen in 1926 that I know of." It replaced a previous building destroyed by fire that was used by the Foxton Borough Council and the new build was named the Town Hall.

MAVTech's two carbon arc projectors from the 1930s still work.
MAVTech's two carbon arc projectors from the 1930s still work.

The cinema stopped operating sometime in the 1970s and Peter Edwards, who founded MAVTech, rescued the building. He redid the interior and restored the 1930s cinema seating.

Today only the upstairs circle seating remains. On the ground floor are the museum display cases and a large amount of its vast collection.

MAVTECH owns 5 million feet of old film reels as well as 100,000 records, both vinyl and shellac, in all sizes imaginable, all still fit to be used. The cinema has three projectors, one for 35mm film and two carbon arc projectors from 1938.

The Civic Theatre in Auckland and the Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision are the only two other institutions that have a working 35 mm projector.

The room where the film cases are stored at the back of the building smells vaguely like an old darkroom used to.

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"It tells us some of these film reels are eroding," said Harper. "When we find them we throw them out."

Every film requires several reels to run and an ingenious contraption in the projection room allows seamless showing.

"It gets hot in here and it is hard work for the projectionist."

The museum puts on a old-fashioned movie night every last Friday of the month, complete with musical accompaniment from a pianola.

Among the museum's vast collection are players that use cylinders, rather than records or tapes and MAVTech has a few containing music as well as speeches by Thomas Edison and Theodore Roosevelt.

MAVTech's collection of audio –visual equipment, possibly unique in the country, can be shared more with others and the wider Foxton and Horowhenua community.

Jim Harper with one of the carbon rods used inside MAVTech's carbon arc projectors from the 1930s.
Jim Harper with one of the carbon rods used inside MAVTech's carbon arc projectors from the 1930s.

The Museum trust is conscious that the current set-up might appeal more to the older generations who remember much of the equipment on display, said Harper.

And they see potential to reframe the museum as a must–see destination for anyone interested in NZ culture, film, technology or history.

A concept plan has been drawn up, which has had the seal of approval from the Foxton Community Board.

The plan envisions a revamp of the displays, like stacking collection objects to free up space for performance on the main floor of the complex, and suggest assembling a feature collection that changes regularly. The vast film collection could cater for mini film fests around certain genres or topics.

The building already has a kitchen, used by the Rotary Club, and that could be turned into a bar and cafe for museum and cinema patrons, with extra seating on the balcony above the main entrance of the building.

The plan also suggest making the radio station a viewer's spectacle, giving visitors the option to view the DJs in action and it could be used more to help promote the museum.

The proposal was put together by a Wellington company called Workshop e, which has provided spatial design, graphic design, content development, production and installation, and delivery management for Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom and many other galleries and museums around the country.

Workshop e suggests that more volunteers are needed and that future proofing for the digital age must to be considered. They say the radio station could be a great asset to both MAVTech and Foxton and could help promote the museum and the area to a much wider audience.

The collection could be used to make or edit TV, radio and film and hiring out their vintage equipment to qualified professionals.

The building is only partially earthquake-proof and will need more work. Chairman James Harper said the auditorium was strengthened by Horowhenua District Council in 2006 but the code used is now outdated.

"The back section of the building was strengthened in 2009 to 100 per cent seismic code by the council, who own the building, and funded mostly by Lotteries to the tune of half a million dollars.

"The building's overall rating is 34 per cent or perhaps less. We have various estimates for renovation and seismic compliance but the cost will depend on a lot of issues such as the condition of the roof, compliance costs, health and safety requirements related to update the amenities such as the need for an elevator, plus the cost of addition like the cafe."

Council Chief Executive David Clapperton said Horowhenua District Council initiated and funded the concept plan for the future of MAVtech developed by Workshop e.

"The concept plan was presented to the Foxton Community Board on 28 January, and the Board supported it. Funding opportunities may include avenues such as the Provincial Growth Fund and the Lotteries Commission; however, no funding has yet been confirmed.

"No decision has yet been made about the future of Coronation Hall. The building requires earthquake strengthening, which is estimated to cost around $400,000. A feasibility study is underway."