Fewer than 50 people turned up for David Roache's Save the Foxton Memorial Hall meeting, but it was enough to form a committee that wil look into ways it can keep the hall open and in community hands.
At the same time they plan to negotiate with Horowhenua District Council on a price as well as other financial help.
Substantial work had been done on the hall in recent years and it looks to be in good nick.
"It is too good to be discarded," said Roache, though he didn't want to waste any time trying to convince the council to change its mind.
He said the only crack in the building he could find is in the main hall near one of the windows. He saw no deterioration anywhere.
Roache can see a few options for the hall, ranging from leaving the council to get on with the job of selling the halls or to form a community trust and negotiate with council about buying the Foxton hall for a token amount, while also making a deal on the rates and other expenses.
He said a community trust can get funding for the earthquake strengthening work.
Because he felt it would make sense to talk about the future of the hall in the hall, he organised the meeting privately, not as a re-elected member of the local community board.
"This is the only place in town where we can do many things and it is an important building both for Foxton and Foxton Beach."
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Many believed the hall hire to be too high - $515 for 24 hours for the entire building, or $61 an hour. The main hall costs $28 per hour and the kitchen $14.50. Minimum hire is two hours.
Looking at the expenses versus the income of the hall, there needs to be a good plan to make the hall financially viable again, he said.
Income from hall hire over the last few years:
$3944 (2018), $3727 (2017), $6300 (2016), $5130 (2015), $9236 (2014), $7799 (2013). Expenses on the other hand were: $20,697 (2018), $23,812 (2017), $19,420 (2016), $30,189 (2015), $32,695 (2014), $32, 245 (2013).
Expenses include rates, insurance and general maintenance.
Rates are around $2500 a year and insurance $1500.
Any new owner will need to come up with a plan to make the hall pay for itself. According to Roach the meeting rooms in one section of the building could be hired out permanently as offices.
Earthquake strengthening of the hall has been estimated to cost at least $247,000.
Bruce Rockell, a retired structural engineer said he wondered whether a detailed seismic assessment was done.
"Council's decision may have been based solely on a desktop report, meaning it was based on the style and age of the building. That it was build prior to 1970 does not mean it is earthquake prone.
"And being earthquake prone doesn't mean it cannot be used. It is the council's decision not the use earthquake prone buildings for any of its meetings."
He said each council must assess all buildings and the initial procedure is a desktop investigation based on the date and the type of building.
"Of course each building was built according to good practices of the time.
"I suspect this building may have shallow foundations and the brick walls are a concern. I would look definitely at strengthening the roof trusses."
He said Foxton has a potential problem with liquefaction.
"That occurs on loose sandy soils with a high water table, situated near a river. The shaking rearranges the sand allowing the water to turn it in into mud."
He believed the council estimate of $240,000 for earthquake strengthening to be reasonable.
"Earthquake standards have changed in recent years and a detailed investigation may turn up that this building's earthquake rating is higher than the 32 per cent current estimate. It may already be at 44 per cent, which is the required percentage now, but only a detailed assessment will bring that to light."
Having said that, he also pointed out that any engineer would recommend an earthquake strength of at least 67 per cent.
Horowhenua District Council confirmed an initial seismic review was carried out by Opus International in May 2013 and in 2014 Opus was contracted to follow that up with a seismic retrofit concept.
"The seismic rating achievable for this building following the installation of the proposed seismic retrofit was >44%NBS. This was limited by in-plane and out-of-plane failure in the unreinforced masonry infill panels provided throughout the building," the review said.
"To increase the achievable %NBS to >67% would require substantial modifications to the building including but not limited to:
• Installation of FRP strengthening, the partial demolition and use of reinforced shotcrete;
· or the complete removal and replacement with reinforced concrete to a significant number of the unreinforced masonry panels including the construction of associated foundations and modifications to the timber floor throughout the building.
• The provision of a significant number of additional structural steel restraints (structural members and plates etc.) to any remaining unreinforced masonry panels.
"While a % NBS > 67% is achievable it would involve the partial demolition/alteration of a significant part of this building with the subsequent cost implications," the review said.
"Seismic resistance is a complex measurement that needs to be completed by professional structural engineers and it considers all structural elements of a building and likely performance under a moderate earthquake.
"This assessment considered:
• Roof/ceiling bracing
• Longitudinal shear walls – in plane action for shear and flexure;
• Transverse shear walls – in plane shearing
• Shear walls – out of plane flexure
However moving forward, for Roache the question was, "what does the community want?"
Numerous ideas were bandied around and several people put up their hands to join an organising committee - Basil Vertongen, Brett Russell, Lorraine Davidson, Karen Adams, David Roach and Geraldine Ronowiz.
The hall contains memorials to World War I and World War II soldiers from Foxton as well as a memorial room dedicated to Stuart Ellwood, who died in Vietnam aged 20, on Waitangi Day 1968. He was a radio operator with 161 Battery of the Royal New Zealand Artillery Unit and was the Battery's last casualty of the Vietnam War. These memorials will need to find a new home, whatever happens to the hall.
Both the earthquake rating and the declining use prompted council to decide to dispose of the hall last year.
"The decision considered a range of matters including falling use, the requirement for earthquake strengthening, current maintenance, and renewals costs."
"There does not appear to be a correlation between the public declaration and reducing use – reducing use of halls is not just occurring here but around the country," Horowhenua District Council's Property & Parks Manager Arthur Nelson said. "
We don't really know why but it's likely the proliferation in low-cost entertainment options in the home is key.
"Reducing use has been occurring since before the declaration [to sell] and this is not just a Foxton phenomenon, but across our district and our neighbouring councils are also experiencing the same decline in use. One other thing is that Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom opened in November 2017 – it has several spaces that are used by community groups.
"Foxton Memorial Hall was evaluated as earthquake prone in May 2013. It is legal requirement that Council notify its earthquake prone buildings.
The use of Foxton Memorial Hall between July 2012 and June 2020: (* indicates an estimate):
Jul 12/Jun 13: 160, Jul 13/Jun 14: 146, Jul 14/Jun 15: 129 Jul 15/Jun 16: 68, Jul 16/Jun 17: 55, Jul 17/Jun 18: 15, Jul 18/Jun 19: 8, Jul 19/Jun 20: 12*.
Nelson said the use was still high in July 2013-June 2014 at 146 individual uses. Use has shown a continuous decline since 12/13, with a significant decline in 2015/16.