31-Mar-12

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Te Ahu's a hit with visitors

by Northland Age

Whatever controversies might have arisen from the concept and completion of Kaitaia's civic complex Te Ahu, it's getting a big thumbs up from the public according to Massey University researchers who recorded visitors' impressions in the first week after it opened.

'Awesome!' 'Wow!' 'What an experience!' was how visitors had commonly reacted.

Comments by 114 adults had been overwhelming positive, Dr Avril Bell and Professor Eva Mackey (visiting from Carleton University in Canada) said in their report.

"People were generally very impressed with the facilities, commented on the beauty of the building interior, and expressed a great deal of pride in having this facility in their community," they added.

The researchers saw two teenage girls shaking with excitement in the new library, featuring an artificial kauri tree, swing bridge and forest-themed mural.

"It makes me want to get a book and read it," one of the girls said, while a young mother with three special needs children was thrilled when she discovered the resources that were available to her children.

"This place is Christmas for me," she said.

Te Ahu Charitable Trust general manager Mark Osborne said the report made for gratifying reading, given the years and hard work so many people had put into making the centre a reality.

"Te Ahu has had its knockers, but most people are blown away by what we have achieved for the Kaitaia and Far North communities, and indeed the district," he said.

"Visitors have been interested in the design concept and impressed by the painted stingray and ocean mural on the atrium floor. This was challenging to create, because large concrete floors such as this inevitably crack as the concrete ages." The trust had decided to allow the floor to age naturally, to produce random cracks in keeping with the ocean theme, rather than making straight construction cuts.

 

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"It is not a construction fault, but a deliberate decision to preserve the aesthetics of this magnificent mural," Mr Osborne said.

The trust now had only minor finishing touches and some landscaping work to complete before Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae officially opened the centre on April 28.

"We are delighted that Sir Jerry accepted Mayor Wayne Brown's invitation to celebrate this very special occasion with the people of the Far North," Mr Osborne said, adding that the trustees were pleased to have delivered the project as planned, and within budget.

Mr Brown said the council had taken an inter-generational approach to funding Te Ahu.

"We have spread the servicing of debt over 20 years, so the ratepayers of today aren't faced with the full costs up-front," he said.

The council planned to reduce loans, which currently stood at about $7.7 million and cost about $350,000 a year to service, as proceeds from the sale of surplus properties became available.

"Whichever way you look at it, council's investment to achieve a $14 million-plus community asset is a great result," Mr Brown said, adding that the council would have had to spend money upgrading or replacing the public library, service centre, i-Site and museum if Te Ahu hadn't been built. The Little Theatre and Far North Community Centre, which had been incorporated into Te Ahu, had also needed major refurbishment (at a cost of around $1 million).

Concentrating activities at Te Ahu meant the council had been able to streamline its Kaitaia services and contain operating costs through synergies.

"Frankly it has been the best possible long-term outcome for the local community and the wider district," Mr Brown added.

He was also pleased to report that a memorandum of understanding with Te Runanga o Te Rarawa had been prepared and was ready for signature, promising a strong and enduring partnership into the future.

Mr Brown said the few critics of the project had been concerned with minor details rather than the big picture.

"Most minds should be put to rest by the fact that we have had clean audit outcomes, which would not have happened if we had not followed appropriate consultation and financial reporting requirements," he said.

"With Te Ahu now up and running well, we can concentrate on generating some more big positives for the Far North."

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