End of an era for Fortrose Hall

The Fortrose Public Hall is set to be sold. Photo: Supplied

THE country community hall is just a building, but a building that has experienced life.

It holds its own stories — and secrets — within its walls. Some are pleasant and others are tinged with sadness. Decades have allowed it to journey with many of the communities, being the centre of many events.

It’s where decisions were made, books were borrowed, milestone birthdays were celebrated, family members said farewell and young love blossomed.

The Fortrose Public Hall is no different from many of the community halls still dotted around New Zealand rural communities. They were, and some still are, the community hub where people connect.

But the Fortrose hall’s semi-retirement period is over and the future practicalities had to be faced — no matter how much it was valued and loved.

Fortrose Domain Board chairman Ian Ruddenklau said the ratepayers had made the
unanimous recommendation to the Southland District Council, via the Waihopai Toetoe
Community Board, for the hall to be closed and sold.

It was a decision endorsed by all members of the board and council at its February meeting.

In a twist of irony, many of the present hall committee’s forefathers were on the Fortrose Hall founding committee.

The hall had served the Southland community for 83 years after being built in 1939 for £651. A projector room and library were included in its design to allow the building to be a more multi-purpose venue.

Movies, Saturday night dances, 21st birthdays, school concerts, wakes, engagement and stag parties, wedding receptions, badminton, bowls and darts tournaments were just a few of the events regularly celebrated by the community at the venue.

Mr Ruddenklau remembers meeting his late wife Jeanette at one of the hall’s country dances she had travelled to attend from another district. It also hosted his stag party.

As modern life changed and schools amalgamated, the hall was used less and less. The
district library within had closed about the 1960s.

People had become more mobile and the roads became better which allowed people to travel to town and use the ‘‘abundance of specialised venues’’, he said.

But the community in the late 1990s, determined not to lose the valuable asset, raised $10,000 to keep the building from deteriorating past repair and resolved to use it more.

However, realities were faced late last year — the hall could not be retained as it was not being used enough to justify the $30 per household rates charge to keep it going each year, he said.

People from the community and wider district were favouring to use the Tokanui Hall instead if a venue was needed.

“The power supply alone was costing $1000 a year, without using power.’’

The hall would be sold by tender for demolition or removal with the sale proceeds returned to the community. The land would be still be available for the community to use but owned by the Southland District Council, Mr Ruddenklau said.