Plans for Cromwell's hall of the future come to life

by Kim Bowden - Mar 10, 2023

The Cromwell community has said "get on with it, build it now" and this weekend it's getting a good look at what's planned to replace its out-of-use memorial hall.

The Central Otago District Council's property and facilities boss Garreth Robinson is playing host at an interactive display over three days at Old Cromwell's McNulty House, where locals are invited to see paper plans come to life.

With him, are representatives of Jasmax, the Christchurch-based architecture company tasked with designing the multimillion-dollar complex.

With the help of virtual reality googles, visitors can walk through the proposed $38-million building, which includes a 400-seat auditorium, a 40-seat cinema, a museum, a cafe, and flexible meeting and entertaining spaces.

After months of closed door meetings with selected stakeholders, Cromwellians are invited to talk with council staff and designers on the town's planned multi-million-dollar events centre.

Mr Robinson says sorting a replacement for the earthquake-at-risk memorial hall "has been such a big journey for such a long time", and during the council's last long-term planning consultation there was a strong call from Cromwellians to "get on with it" and "build it now".

He's answered questions today from a steady stream of early visitors to the information-sharing event and says there's been "zero concerns so far".

People are checking in with him there'll be enough toilets, the auditorium will take advantage of up-to-date technology for things like sound and lighting, and local construction materials will be used where they can, he says.

"People are saying they love the concept and how it fits with the landscape."

Chris Jack of Jasmax has travelled to town from Christchurch for the event.

He says there's a responsibility to come up with a concept that delivers Cromwell value, and "that doesn't mean the cheapest building".

The end result needs to cater to the needs of the community as well as attract visitors to the town. 

He uses the example of the auditorium, where there's plans for top-notch acoustics, stage-side gantries, and greenroom space.

Scrimping on costs here may bring down the overall budget, but the result will be lost revenue for the town in the long term if visiting artists put the venue in the "too-hard basket", he says.

He's also advocating for the initial inclusion of the museum - plans do allow for a staged build - as the day-to-day foot traffic it will bring will help "activate" the building outside of nighttime event hours, he says.

The architects have referred to early analysis done by the community-led Cromwell Cultural Centre Trust on usage of the memorial hall, and Mr Robinson says the trick for planning for its replacement is finding that "sweet spot" for a venue that can cater for what was an existing use as well as what was being turned away.

Cromwell resident Les Wickham, who was at the event today, says "the old hall served as a home to quite a few people and groups".

He calls the plans for the new events centre "futuristic", and he hopes the flashy appearance will also have strong functionality.

Mr Robinson says the spaces and how they may work are still up for discussion and we wants any community group - especially those, like the toy library, currently displaced with the closure of the memorial hall - to feel they can be part of that conversation.

He's confirmed the RSA has been "absolutely" involved from the get-go and is supportive of a proposed shift of the town's cenotaph from its current location to out front of the new centre.

Cromwell Primary School pupils play with colours and textures for building materials and furnishings for their future town hall at a community open day at McNulty House.

Meanwhile Carol Wickham, who was at today's drop-in session with Les, says she "is quite excited" by the project.

On a recent trip up north she visited a new civil centre in Kaitaia, which she says had a similar feel to what she's seeing in the Cromwell event centre designs.

"It was so amazing."

Both Les and Carol are cautious about ratepayer spend - not just on the build itself, which is already looking to cost much more than council budgets allow for and will rely on additional funding streams, but also on the ongoing running costs of the public facility.

"It needs to be maintained and managed. It won't pay for itself," Mr Wickham says.

"As a ratepayer it has to be a question we ask...Is this a public service as opposed to a public asset?"

Cromwell community board member Bob Scott hopes many others will get along this weekend to pose their own questions to those leading the project's design.

"We get a lot of questions that could be answered by this."

The drop in sessions continue tomorrow from 10am until 3pm at McNulty House, on Inniscort Street, and Sunday, from 9am until 1pm.

Main image: Checking out the preliminary designs for the events centre build in three dimensions with the help of virtual reality goggles. 

Read more: New plans released for Cromwell's multimillion-dollar hall


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