The keys to the old Levin courthouse have been given to a council contractor despite community groups wanting it for a museum.
One of Levin's most treasured buildings, the old Levin courthouse was recently converted into an office for Horowhenua Alliance, a council contractor.
But locals wanting the building used for heritage purposes feel snubbed after proposals to turn the building into a "much-needed museum" were turned down.
They wanted the courthouse, built in 1903 and donated to the district council in 2008, then moved from Bristol St to the Rose Gardens on Cambridge St in 2009, to be a museum and the start of a heritage trail.
Horowhenua District Council called for expressions of interest last year to develop the property "into a vibrant and modern destination which continues to attract new residents and visitors".
Two heritage organisations filed applications, to no avail.
HDC infrastructure manager Kevin Peel said they were turned down because "they scored insufficiently well in their outline proposals".
Applications had to be no more than four pages, yet deal with three key criteria and four objectives. With drawings, too.
In its document Request for Expressions of Interest - 33 pages long - council acknowledged the building as 'highly valued by the local community', and 'holding an important place in the identity of the community'.
"The building is nestled within the Public Rose Gardens which were upgraded to create a suitable final resting place for an important part of Levin and the Horowhenua's history," it said.
The building and rose gardens were seen as a lunch destination, located minutes from the CBD.
Across the road are heritage sites such as the Cenotaph, Thompson House, Horowhenua Art Society, the Levin Women's Bowling Club, as well as a listed church building.
"If developed appropriately offers a significant opportunity to attract high numbers of both local and visitor traffic" and "this is a "high profile development opportunity in Levin".
Applicants were asked how they intended to preserve the building's cultural and historic features, how their plans could add value to the town centre, and to bring a strong design that develops the site as an anchor property in the CBD.
Council's third objective was for any plans to limit its own financial input.
Rough concept drawings were expected, and applicants were asked to "indicate if their proposal includes an offer for purchase of the building as part of this EOI process".
The proposals were also evaluated based on four other criteria: property development, adding interest and value, flexibility in terms of council funding and ability to work with council staff, as well as any practical innovation they could bring.
..indicate if their proposal includes an offer for purchase of the building as part of this EOI process.
Heritage Horowhenua Charitable Trust chairman Kerry Geertson said there is plenty of high value historical material available for a museum, envisaging plenty of modern technology to share the story of Levin.
His group supported the application for use of the old courthouse by the historical society, which brought together anyone with a stake in heritage and history.
His group was working on a Walk of Fame, commemorating past and present Levin residents for their achievements in life.
They were also developing a trail for heritage homes, those 100 or so years old, and a museum could be a great starting point. QR codes and a website could enhance that information.
"The old courthouse sits in a heritage precinct. It could be a museum combining heritage with modern technology as well as provide a research space. A museum will be a catalyst for the heritage trail we are working on," he said.
Residents often donate materials to the historical society or the library's heritage room but there was little space to display it properly.
"It is about time Levin had a museum and the old courthouse is ideally placed to make this work," he said.
The historical society's application was turned down, though it "broadly met the requirements for these specific criteria".
On the four other criteria, they were told the proposal had "not achieved a sufficient scoring to be selected to progress through to the next stage".
Historical society president Tom Hayes said it unclear why the proposal was turned down.
"We had to do in three pages, what the council did in 33," he said.
"We are disappointed our plans for the old courthouse have come to nothing."
He said it was logical for Levin to have a museum, but feared HDC was focused on Foxton as the heritage hub of Horowhenua.
"We do not need anything modern or big, just enough to store our documents and some space to work," he said.
Horowhenua Historical Society only dealt with paper, including photos, not artefacts.
"We do a lot of indexing and archival work. We have never needed a home, really. We have been a passive tenant of the Levin library's Heritage Room, but are in full support of a museum for Levin."
The historical society has been around for more than 40 years. It handled photos, books, documents, pamphlets, and newspapers. They held guided tours of local cemeteries actively worked on histories of local families and buildings.
Several members had written books about local history or people.
"Many of our 20-odd members also belong to the NZ Genealogical Society and do help a lot of people track down forebears from Horowhenua, wherever they may be themselves."
The building is now in use as an office for the Horowhenua Alliance.
Peel said it was a temporary arrangement born out of necessity. There is no connection between the rejection of expressions of interest in the building to the current occupancy of the building.
"Both applicants/proponents were advised on the 29th March 2021 that their applications were insufficient to move to the second stage. The flooding issue experienced at the previous headquarters of the Alliance did not occur until 13th May 2021.
"The assertion that the groups were turned down in favour of the Alliance use of the building is therefore incorrect."
"Heavy rainfall left the Horowhenua Alliance's commercially leased premises on Bath St with significant flooding, leaving that office unfit for purpose.
"Some staff were forced to work from home and some from the Hokio Beach Rd depot, while options for alternate premises, for the short to medium term, were investigated as a matter of urgency," he said.
"The option selected was the Old Levin Courthouse Building as it was currently vacant, not bringing in any income and available for a prompt move."
"The locating of the Alliance in the old courthouse is not seen as a long term arrangement, however, in the interim, using the Old Levin Courthouse as the administrative hub of the Alliance puts a previously vacant building to good purpose, ensures continuity of service following the recent disruption to its services arising from the flooding, and reduces the commercial lease cost of delivering its services."
*The Horowhenua Alliance is a council contractor, run by Downer, to run operations and maintenance of all three water services supplied by council: drinking water supplies, wastewater and stormwater. This started in 2017 and the contractor runs for five years. Downer has been involved in this work in Horowhenua for the past 20 years.