Kath Adams admitted last week that she was tired. Tired of fighting to save the Ōruru Hall, the Swamp Palace as it became in its days as a cinema, and as it has been known ever since, against a lack of interest, even active opposition, from some within the community, and a Far North District Council whose contribution had more often than not been less than helpful.
There was one ray of light though. The Ōruru and Inland Valleys Association, which she chairs, was very grateful for the assistance received from Mayor John Carter.
"He's been extremely supportive of our quest to do whatever possible to save the Ōruru Community Hall. He has certainly been the most helpful person we have ever dealt with at the FNDC and we appreciate his assistance," she said.
It had been a long, hard slog though, with no real sign of a light at the end of the tunnel.
"It would blow the minds of many to realise the actual amount of work, the hours of investigating funding options, discussion, in-depth investigation and planning put in over the years on how best to save the hall," Adams said.
"Those in the know know only too well just how much energy, hard slog, blood, sweat, tears, frustration, the number of printer cartridges and reems of A4 paper that have gone into it. The time and energy spent in the last two years alone on structural requirement design, revamping of plans and all that has gone along with it, is hard to grasp for those not directly involved at ground level. To say it's been a complex project is certainly an understatement. "'Fixing' the Ōruru Hall once and for all has honestly been a mission from the depths of every previous committee member's soul, I'm sure."
Not all the frustration emanated from the council though. Some of those at a recent public meeting had been under the illusion that little use had been made of the hall over many years. In fact, in 2018, the year the council closed the hall on safety grounds, it was hired privately more than 45 times. The four years before that had seen multiple musical gigs (including international artists), two hugely successful medieval banquets and numerous private functions.
Meanwhile, after making various submissions to the council and Te Hiku Community Board over the last six years, and two well-attended public meetings in 2018 and last year, the council allocated $196,000 for the hall's reinstatement. More than two-thirds of that had been spent on as repiling and engineering plans done.
The cost of restoring the "historic icon" was now estimated at around $1.5 million. And with a consulting engineer advising that the building was currently deteriorating at the rate of 25 years every calendar year, time was of the essence if it was going to be saved.
Adams said an engineer's 2019 plans had required amending four months later after further discussion with builders, so the engineer's recommendations were actually "do-able" without having to demolish half the hall. A steel portal across the front of the stage was altered to ensure it would work without serious demolition on the north side. Extending the stage by just over a metre into the main hall and adding sheer walls at the front of the stage and main hall had achieved that. The committee now had complete structural engineering and final working plans.
All that was left to do was to complete are drawings for the proposed new kitchen.
"Why were amendments needed, I hear you ask? Because in OIVA's experience, when dealing with council, things can run back to front a lot of the time," she said.
"It is an extremely frustrating and thankless task to put in the effort and to be so close to something of a win, only to have the staff member you'd been dealing with leave, whereby you get to start right back at the absolute beginning again with the next staff member. Thanks to a lack of adequate communication, or maybe it's just a lack of commitment to our cause from previous staff, this has gone on for over 40 years.
"It takes guts to carry on the fight, and it can wear you down, but stubbornness is working for us, or for Ōruru Hall in this instance.
"What we need now is the money to get the work done. The targeted rate proposal would cover this, and was an option we could not walk away from... No one wants their rates to go up any more than they already are, we get that. However, for a mere $1.16 a week per property, The hall would be reinstated as an amazing 21st Century venue, keeping all that we love about it and ditching the things we don't (like the overflowing outside toilet).
"If the cost of the work ended up being less, the targeted rate would stop earlier than the 10-year plan, once the cost had been covered."
The plan had been to send out a short, informative letter from the OIVA, outlining why it was trying to save the hall, along with the council's targeted rate proposal. Initially the council told the OIVA that people would have a month to respond, but that reduced to 10 working days maximum once the letters were posted (on October 19).
"No problem if you have access to a scanner and the internet, but lots don't still, so it's the snail mail option," she said.
"Some ratepayers didn't receive their letter from the FNDC till after Labour Weekend. Some didn't receive the OIVA's letter with the FNDC letter, and some received absolutely nothing about any of it. We know of about 15 people who didn't receive anything from the council.
"We wonder how many more people missed out, but we will probably never know. The council has been happy to re-send letters/forms to those we know about, which is helpful, but unless email is available it may simply be too late now. (The council had said it would accept responses until today).
Meanwhile the OIVA had issues with some of the wording on the council form, making it more difficult to complete than it needed to be.
"Instead of a rates account number an assessment number was asked for. This posed a problem for some," Adams said.
"The costings were stated at the highest end, $1.75 million, which hadn't been discussed prior to sending the forms out, and was higher than we understood the figure to be.
"It was disappointing to find that more things were stacking up against people finding it easy to vote on this. Most may already be bristling about being asked for an extra $60 a year for 10 years; why make it hard to fill out the form, and therefore harder to get a positive result when it's a tough ask to start with?
The OIVA has fielded about 20 phone calls over the last two weeks from people wanting more information on the hall. Many told us of their own experience when dealing with the council on different issues. The common thread was a lack of faith that staff follow through on things, and most prevalently, a lack of accountable transparency and communication avoidance.
"Council staff have been helpful to us in setting up this proposal, and also in discussing their rationale in regard to our concerns with parts of it. There is still room for a fair amount of improvement in the area of communication and a simple common sense approach to things within the FNDC.
"We understand that deadlines are reasons for time constraints, but rushing things through is no excuse for a lack of communication. We need to be able to trust those we deal with at the FNDC, and be empowered, knowing that all staff employed there know what's expected of them and do the job to the best of their ability. That is what they're being paid to do. Ratepayers shouldn't be feeling anxiety that council might not 'get it right.'
"We understand human error is something that happens from time to time, and that is a fact of life, but competence is something we absolutely expect from our council. Thank you to each and every one at the FNDC who has communicated with us when we have needed answers. It has certainly made a big difference to us."
A long shot
The Far North District Council won't be releasing the result of the targeted rate proposal, to find restoration of the Ōruru Hall, until today, but Ōruru and Inland Valleys Association chair Kath Adams is not expecting it to succeed.
The proposal needs 75 per cent support from some 3000 ratepayers, and as of last week only 160 papers had been returned. Those who do not respond will be counted as opposing the idea.
"It's a blimmin long shot," Adams said last week, preparing herself for what appeared to be an inevitable result in the negative.