Taihape Town Hall has been closed for two years since an engineer’s report identified the building as high-risk in the event of an earthquake. In October this year, Rangitīkei District Council approved a budget of $14 million for the earthquake strengthening and redevelopment of the historic building. Liz Wylie asked locals what they were missing and looking forward to for when the building re-opens.
The Taihape Town Hall building, designed by local architect Hugh Doherty and Arthur Herrold of Auckland, was built by Taihape contractor George Wrightson.
It opened in December 1912 and originally had gabled parapets over the end bays of the second storey. It is believed they were later removed for reasons of seismic safety. Otherwise, the building looks the same as it did over a century ago, and that’s the way the majority of local respondents to a council survey want it to stay.
“It’s an iconic building,” Blush Florist owner Tania Byford said.
“There were some great shows before it closed. Fashion shows and Wellington performers Big Girls - they were brilliant.
“Once the building has been strengthened and the insulation and heating upgraded, it will be fantastic.”
Other Taihape residents said they missed visiting the library, which is temporarily housed at leased premises at 102 Hautapu St, along with the i-Site and council services.
“The staff manage it well, but the library space is very small,” Lesley Sole said.
“I hope the upgrade won’t take too long, because everyone is looking forward to visiting the town hall library again.”
As Christmas is approaching, there was nostalgia for festive events previously held in the hall.
“There were great Christmas ballet performances from the local dance schools, and musicals and plays performed by the Taihape Drama Club,” said Monique Sole.
“There is usually a lot happening in the hall at this time of year.”
Retired dance teacher Heather McQueen, who has taught many little Taihape toes to twinkle at the McQueen School of Dance, said she produced her last Christmas show at the town hall in 2019.
“I’m 79 now, and I have a sore knee that was making it hard for me to teach, but I’m sad there won’t be shows at the town hall for a while,” she said.
“It’s a lovely hall, and I first danced on the stage there as a 6-year-old. I hope they get the work done as quickly as they can so children will get the chance to perform. The Taihape Dance Academy will be wanting to perform there, I’m sure.”
McQueen’s father, Noel Byford, was Taihape’s mayor in the days of the borough council.
“Dad cared very much about the hall and all the town buildings. I think it was easier to manage things in Taihape then. Now, the district council has to look after all the towns and all their buildings.”
As well as stage shows, Taihape Town Hall has been a venue for christenings, weddings and funerals.
Funeral director Marion Bennett said she had conducted services in the hall.
“It’s a beautiful venue for a farewell, and the building means a lot to families.
“The only modern features I would like to see are improvements to the video and audio facilities. Apart from that, I think most people love it just the way it is. My great-grandfather was on the town borough council when the hall was built, so it has a special place in my heart as well.”
Rangitīkei Mayor Andy Watson said the $14m estimate was a maximum budget and it was hoped the redevelopment would cost less.
“I’m hopeful that we won’t need $14m, but that was a historical budget that was apportioned to it.
“My hope is that there will be a considerable saving.”
Watson said while he would like to see the work commence immediately, care was needed to ensure the upgrade would make the building fit for purpose over many decades. He gave assurance work would get underway as quickly as possible.
Liz Wylie is a multi-media journalist for the Whanganui Chronicle. She joined the editorial team in 2014 and regularly covers stories from Whanganui and the wider region. She also writes features and profile stories.