Rally cry for hall

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Mid Canterbury dancers turn out in their hundreds as they try to save Balmoral Hall.
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With pink and black signs held high, former and present dancers responded to a rally cry to save Balmoral Hall on Friday.

Dance Worx studio, which holds classes in the town centre facility, put out the call. About 250 responded, attending a ‘‘family photo’’ shoot and filling out forms to submit to the district council.

The district council is consulting on its Long Term Plan, which includes the options of selling or demolishing the hall.

Dance Worx operator Charmaine Quaid said when she came up with the idea of gathering people to show support for the hall, she thought six people might respond.

‘‘I was overwhelmed by the couple of hundred past and present-day dancers and their parents who turned up,’’ Quaid said.

Many had travelled a distance to attend, as they felt strongly about retaining the hall.

‘‘When it looked like we would lose Ashburton Hospital, my mother was one of those who joined hands around the hospital in order to fight to save it. Now I am fighting to save another community asset,’’ Quaid said.

Quaid has been holding dance classes in the hall, located on Cass St, for about 50 years. She currently holds classes six days a week for about 250 pupils.

Dance Worx teacher Jessie Thomson is among those who trained at the hall for many years.

‘‘We don’t need millions, just maintenance,’’ Thomson said.

Historical Places Mid Canterbury is supporting their battle.

President Nigel Gilkison said the hall was in good condition. He believed it would cost a lot less to update than the district council’s estimate of $1.3 million.

He is calling for the building to be given heritage status. Historical Places Mid Canterbury president Nigel Gilkison said the organisation had researched the history of Balmoral Hall, and believed it should have heritage status.

‘‘In our view this building is a strong candidate for inclusion on the council’s heritage schedule. The heritage schedule is due to be updated as part of the upcoming District Plan review process and this building will be nominated for inclusion into the heritage schedule,’’ Gilkison said.

Much of the 1936 building was original, including its windows and inside panelling.

‘‘It’s all in good condition. There have been leaks in the roof in the toilet area and behind the stage,’’ Gilkison said.

‘‘I am working with a community hall in South Canterbury, it’s about the same size but requires more work and the costs for that are less than $350,000. So I think the council are grossly over estimating the $1.3m.’’

Dance Worx operator Charmaine Quaid echoed this sentiment.

‘‘From our perspective, we don’t need flashy things, or disco lights,’’ Quaid said. ‘‘We need the roof fixed, so it’s not raining inside and out. A lick of paint would be nice, but not necessary. The place needs to be maintained. Nothing needs to be done to the sprung floor, as it’s great,’’ she said.

As well as hosting dance classes, the hall has been used for a variety of events such as parties, family reunions, presentations, exhibitions, cultural performances and cadet unit parades.

Quaid was pleased with not only the high turnout to her call to action on Friday, but also the commitment people had shown for keeping the hall. About 35 people wrote statements which would be submitted to the district council as part of the LTP consultation, while many others were putting in online submissions.

The district council’s preference in the LTP is to sell the hall and neighbouring former polytech site. The capital value of the two sites is more than $2m.

Other options are to retain and repair Balmoral Hall and the polytech site, and demolish or relocate the buildings and redevelop the site.

The district council will host a barbecue at Baring Square East this Saturday, from 10am to 2pm, and Balmoral Hall will also be open during this time.

Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown urged people to come to the barbecue and go and see the hall, just two blocks away. ‘‘Then, if they have questions, they can come and chat to us,” Brown said.