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Grandstand upgrade set for kick-off

$8m project rescoped due to Covid-19, increasing costs

RUGBY Park's Covid-delayed grandstand redevelopment project is about to start.

It is an exciting time for the Poverty Bay rugby community, who have been waiting since mid-2020 when Finance Minister Grant Robertson and then-Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones announced funding of $8 million for the project from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

The project, initiated after a funding application from Poverty Bay Rugby Football Union chief executive Josh Willoughby, aims to develop a fit-for-purpose facility for the wider community, including other sports, entertainment, cultural and whanau events.

Union Council of Clubs chairman Marty Bayley said the delayed project had been rescoped because of the Covid pandemic and increasing costs.

“We had to look at it and look harder. We also looked at how we could achieve the project with local contractors. By dissecting the project into smaller portions, we can spread the work around.”

The project no longer includes total demolition of the grandstand.

Instead, three-quarters of the stand will be seismically restrengthened with stone columns while the western quarter (golf club end) will be demolished and replaced.

“We've gone to the local contracting market for preliminary costings,” Mr Bayley said.

The existing stand — built over just three months in time for Poverty Bay-East Coast combined to play the touring South Africa side in June 1965 after the previous grandstand was destroyed by arson — met only 15 percent of the required seismic building standards.

Mr Bayley said the grandstand would sway longitudinally duing an earthquake of sufficient strength.

A pillar is to be built in the new western quarter to brace the entire grandstand and help stop the longitudinal swing.

The roof will be replaced but it is not yet known whether it will be made of rigid steel or fabric.

The lounge at the back of the grandstand will be brought forward, probably at the top of the western quarter, making it possible to view matches.

PBRFU chairman Hayden Swann described the lounge as “the inner sanctum” and said it was full of fantastic mementoes.

Facilities underneath the grandstand will be upgraded, including changing rooms suitable for women.

Mr Bayley said it was an aspirational goal for Poverty Bay to become the first Heartland union to play in the Farah Palmer Cup women's national championship.

Gisborne players were already making their mark in this competition including Waikato squad members Kelsey Teneti, Gabby Wainohu and Renee Holmes, the latter having been selected for the Black Ferns, who headed to Europe yesterday for tests against England and France.

Other Tairāwhiti-connected players such as Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate and Charmaine McMenamin (unavailable for the Europe tour) are experienced internationals.

The grandstand redevelopment will include a turf upgrade because of trees causing damage to drainage pipes and affecting the playing surface.

“We can only play one match on it at a time,” Mr Swann said. “If we spend money on having a great facility, we need to be utilising the fields as often as possible. At the moment you get some rain and that's the end of it.”

The union also intends to use the surface mid-week.

Project chief executive officer Dana Kirkpatrick said the grandstand and turf redevelopment was covered by the government funding.

The development of a wider sports hub was a visionary goal but that “will take time”, Ms Kirkpatrick said.

Mr Swann said the union was open to “hubbing”' with other sports, having taken part in Gisborne District Council's Community Facilities Strategy which looked at a “hub” expanding into the neighbouring Electrinet Park Golf Club.

“If the project came in, we would support that.”

Rugby Park would be the cornerstone of any hub, he said.

Once the development is completed, Mr Willoughby is to approach New Zealand Rugby to stage a significant match at the new-look venue.

The Hurricanes have previously played Super Rugby pre-season matches against the Chiefs at Rugby Park.

The completed Rugby Park would be “an inspirational, sustainable and viable proposition that our community can be proud of,” Mr Swann said.

There was much discomfort among the rugby community when the grandstand was closed in 2019, he said.

“We were committed to finding a solution and want to thank out local MP Kiri Allan, who advocated for the project.”

The grandstand remains, however, the ground continues to be used including for today's Heartland Championship game between Poverty Bay and King Country.

stand and deliver: Anticipating a new-look Rugby Park grandstand and improved playing surface are (from left) Poverty Bay Rugby Football Union chairman Hayden Swann, redevelopment project chief executive oficer Dana Kirkpatrick, union chief executive Josh Willoughby and union Council of Clubs chairman Marty Bayley. The redevelopment will begin in December and is expected to be completed in July 2023. Picture by Paul Rickard