'Eventually it will be Hanmer’s Hagley Park'


Zoe Cuff is part of the construction team undertaking the nine-month restoration project. Cuff...
Zoe Cuff is part of the construction team undertaking the nine-month restoration project. Cuff works on the restoration of the Soldiers’ Block. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Work to bring the Soldiers’ Block at Queen Mary Hospital Historic Reserve in Hanmer Springs back to life has begun.

The restoration and earthquake strengthening work is being led by Hanmer Springs building firm O’Brien Construction.

The work is expected to take nine months to complete, with many Hanmer Springs locals employed on the site as part of the construction team.

Before work began last Wednesday, the building was blessed by Rawiri Manawatu from Ngati Kuri.

Hurunui Mayor Marie Black says it is a huge milestone for the Hanmer Springs community as the construction phase begins for the long-awaited project — a ‘‘vision for our community for so long’’.

‘‘The Soldiers’ Block is synonymous with healing, right from the start of the building’s history as a place for soldiers to heal mentally and psychologically from the horrors of World War 1, and including when it gave hope to so many as a drug and alcohol treatment centre during the 1970s.’’

The Soldiers’ Block was opened in 1916 to rehabilitate the soldiers returning from World War 1, and later became a successful national drug and alcohol treatment facility.

Hurunui District Council chief strategy and community officer Judith Batchelor says Mike Gilles from Heritage New Zealand visited the site last Wednesday and would be working closely with O’Brien Construction throughout the restoration.

‘‘The site is fenced off and access to that part of the Queen Mary Hospital Historic Reserve will be restricted while these works are undertaken.’’

The restoration and earthquake strengthening is part of a $3.5 million redevelopment of the building.

It is being funded by a Lotteries Grant, $1.5 million from the Government’s Better Off funding, development contributions and a grant from the district council’s Earthquake Prone Buildings Fund.

Hanmer Springs Community Board chairperson Mary Holloway said previously the town is ‘‘really excited’’ progress is finally being made, after the Queen Mary Historic Reserve was vested to the council back in 2010.

‘‘Having the project under way is going to be a huge boon for Hanmer and for the hospital site to be the beating heart of the village again will be pretty special. Eventually it will be Hanmer’s Hagley Park.’’

Hanmer Springs-based councillor Tom Davies says the project will breathe new life into the reserve.

‘‘It is great for Hanmer, Hurunui and New Zealand that buildings of such significance are both preserved and brought back to a useful purpose.’’