Residents simply want hall upgraded

Cromwell women Helen Hucklebridge (left) and Odette Hopgood-Bride plead for the Cromwell...
Cromwell women Helen Hucklebridge (left) and Odette Hopgood-Bride plead for the Cromwell Community Board to honour a previous resolution to upgrade the Cromwell Memorial Hall. A petition has been launched to ask for the upgrade to continue, after the plans (see image below) were stalled by the new-look Cromwell Community Board in December. Photo: Pam Jones.
Cromwell’s community and elected members have been discussing what to do about Cromwell’s Memorial Hall for more than 16 years. When will they make a decision? Pam Jones takes a look at the comings and goings of a community board that keeps changing its mind.

A lick of paint wouldn’t do it, as "once you started tinkering with it you wouldn’t be able to stop", former Cromwell Community Board member Helen Hucklebridge says of the hall that was opened as a memorial to the district’s returned servicemen in 1960.

So when, in June last year, after about 16 years of community discussion, various proposals and several rounds of public consultation, the board finally approved a detailed design for a significant upgrade of the Cromwell Memorial Hall, at long last a decision had been made. Or so it seemed.

Six months later, a new board changed its mind, members voting 4-2 against a motion to endorse the previously chosen proposal. Board chairman Neil Gillespie said in a press release the decision reflected "the concerns of some board members about the design, scope and cost of the project".

This week Mr Gillespie stressed the plan had not been thrown out — it was merely that a motion to endorse the June decision and the project in its current scope was not passed. (He seconded the motion, and is one of the board members who want the proposed upgrade to go ahead.)

But now board members were waiting for another report about the hall — to be presented at its next meeting, in February — and members of the community were once more left wondering about the hall’s fate, Mrs Hucklebridge said.

"When will it end? If they don’t go ahead with it [the upgrade] what are they going to do with it [the hall]? Are they going to wait until it falls down? Are they going to demolish it?"

Mrs Hucklebridge, who retired after 15 years on the board at the last election, said she did not want her comments to look like "sour grapes" because an upgrade plan she supported now could be under threat.

But her concerns echo those of many in the Cromwell community. Why is it taking so long for a decision to be made? Why can new community boards overturn the decisions of previous ones? What is going to happen to the community’s hall?

Mr Gillespie said he did not want to criticise the way other board members had voted, and supported the issue having been discussed in-committee at the board’s December meeting, because of the commercial information about tenders that was discussed. The fact the board had changed its mind was "my take on democracy", he said.

But he acknowledged a situation now existed where — although it could not be "blamed" on "just the new members" — new community boards seemed to be overturning decisions made by previous ones. New boards seemed to struggle with the history of the debate about the hall, and a decision about what to do just kept "getting put in the too-hard basket", Mr Gillespie said.

This week, Cromwell woman Odette Hopgood-Bride launched a petition demanding the hall upgrade go ahead, saying she had "had enough" of the constant delays to the project.

As well as considering the upgrade of the hall to be the best thing for the community, she reminded people of the war memorial attached to the hall.

"This hall was built after the war [World War 2], as a memorial to our soldiers. Since I was a little girl I have remembered the eternal flame that is in the entrance to the hall and burns for all those that were in the war. We need to respect the war memorial of this hall and preserve it."

She thought the members who voted against endorsing the design already decided on were "not representing their community", and she encouraged community members to tell their board representatives what they wanted, and to attend the February board meeting, when the hall’s future would be discussed again.

Meanwhile, the price of the upgrade keeps going up.

The project was estimated at $2.6million in 2014, $3million in 2015 and has now risen to $5.4million.

Groups who have been unable to commit to using the hall for several years in a row because of the possibility of the hall being upgraded are again needing to remain in other premises, and usage of the hall therefore remains low.

Mr Gillespie said it was "not as simple" as blaming the rising project cost on the board’s indecision. Higher public expectations and design alterations  had lifted the cost.

He acknowledged some in the community thought the upgrade costs were excessive, and community opinion was  divided.

He agreed the price was steep, and acknowledged the cost and scope of the design were the main reasons why those opposing it had concerns, he said it was time to "get on with the job".

If the upgrade goes ahead, it will be half funded by land sales, and the other half from community funders.



The motion (put at the December community board meeting): "To endorse the Cromwell Memorial Hall project in its current scope, award no tender and to apply to existing funding bodies at the same funding levels plus 4% escalation."

Lost 4-2.

(The motion was voted on in-committee, but it is public record that the motion was put by Nigel McKinlay and seconded by Neil Gillespie).

Neil Gillespie: Confirmed he voted for the proposal.

Shirley Calvert: Did not reply to phone messages.

Annabel Blaikie: Was unavailable for comment.

Robin Dicey: Said he voted against it, as thinks the upgrade proposal is too expensive and overly ambitious.

Anna Harrison: Was not at the meeting for the vote. Says most of the feedback she is receiving from the community is: "It’s time to get on with it".

Nigel McKinlay: Confirmed he voted for the proposal.

Werner Murray:  Declined to confirm how he voted but said it could be worked out by looking at the figures. Says most of the feedback he is receiving is that "something needs to happen".


Based on the incredible growth in property values and therefore the rates take in the region money should not be a problem. Get it done.



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