Shift may 'tear community apart'

ROB MACINTOSH
Last updated 09:18 02/03/2011
Tua Marina Hall
Phil Hunniset (member of the Residents Association), Bill Neal (custodian of the hall), Pat O'Sullivan (chairman of the Residents Association), Glenn Vile (ex Board of Trustees chair), Alec McNeil (current Board of Trustees chair) and Cheryl Wadworth (principal Tua Marina School).

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Residents in Tua Marina are divided by more than a road and rail line.

In its long history the Tua Marina-Waikakaho Memorial Hall, has been extended, flooded and made a living war memorial, with the community uniting for each.

But a proposal to move the hall across State Highway 1 to the grounds of the area's school has now divided residents, threatening to "tear the community apart" in the words of one resident.

Tua Marina School put the proposals before the Marlborough District Council because of increasing concerns about the safety of children when they crossed the stretch of road north of Blenheim to use the hall.

The school's board of trustees chairman, Alec McNeil, said the school was limited in its ability to use the hall because of the busy 80kmh stretch of road and said that the move would allow them to take full advantage of the building.

Meetings have been held on the issue, with strong feelings on both sides, and a survey was carried out by the council, which owns the building and which sent out a form to each of the 120 ratepaying houses in the Tua Marina/Waikakaho area. Of these, 80 were returned, with 60 being in favour of the move.

But the Tua Marina Residents' Association president, Patrick O'Sullivan, said this was "not definitive" and was only a starting point for further discussion. He also said the survey was poorly worded and expressed regret at not having "taken a stronger line" before it went out.

Mr O'Sullivan's main concern was that the move would be a waste of over $250,000 – the sum currently accepted as the final cost with all the associated works.

He said that given its age, moving it could be detrimental to the building and would not provide value for money for the school that a new build would.

Mr Sullivan said there were two camps developing in the village – a sentiment echoed by resident John Masters.

"It has the potential to tear the community apart, and why?" said Mr Masters. "Because the principal doesn't want to cross the road with the kids."

Mr Masters argued that alternative crossing options should be explored further, while the school stressed that all other options were not viable – practically or financially.

Mr Masters also said that the historical significance and emotional attachment that people have to the hall in its current location was being overlooked.

"The biggest problem is the historical one," he said, saying there was evidence that part of the hall dated as far back as 1895.

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But both Mr McNeil and Tua Marina School principal Cheryl Wadworth said the historical integrity of the building would remain - in particular its status as a "living war memorial".

"We looked at all the options – underground crossings, overground crossings, building our own hall – but none of them were possible," said Mr McNeil.

The two sides have differing opinions about the cost of a new hall, with the school citing a cost of about $750,000 all up, but with the Residents' Association claiming that the cost of building a new structure, without allowing for the associated costs, could be about $150,000.

Mr McNeil sought to calm fears that the move was a done deal, agreeing with Patrick O'Sullivan that the current plans were not "definitive" and stressing that the community would have to move on the issue as a whole.

"We will have to take them with us," said Mr McNeil.

There is also the issue of funding.

The school has said that the money could be raised from a number of initiatives including grants and local fundraisers. The council are not obliged to provide funding nor have they committed to, and Mr McNeil said it would not be coming out of the school's operational budget. "The issues of funding and the integrity of the building are the two main issues," he said. "We want to put a building on the site that's going to last for decades to come."

The proposal will go before the full council at a meeting on March 7 after having already secured the support of the assets and services committee.

- The Marlborough Express

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