Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 52, September 2008

(by Graham Watton)

With the Waihou Valley Flood Control scheme commencing in 1972, the Hauraki Catchment Board had embarked on an extensive land acquisition scheme along the banks of the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers in readiness for the new stopbanks.

The Rawhitiroa Reserve, was on the right just over the Criterion Bridge, between the early constructed left stopbank and Paeroa Bowling Club. It had been developed in the 1950s as a cricket ground in the summer and hockey and soccer in the winter months.

The area was required for the flood control scheme to protect Paeroa and the Paeroa Borough Council received $10,000 in compensation. These funds were spent on replacing this sports ground by purchasing an area of low-lying farm land in Towers Street, between the houses fronting Station Road and the left bank of the Hape Creek (Main Drain). While the area was consistently under water in flood times plans were developed to construct a sports field.

By early 1970s the Paeroa Old Boys Rugby Club was looking at spending considerable funds on major maintenance on their clubrooms, the former 70-year-old Civic Theatre in Wharf Street.

The club's president Basil Morrison saw tremendous potential to developing a multi-sport complex on the newly acquired land. He received enthusiastic support from both his club members and the borough council. By early 1975 agreement had been reached between the club, the council and the Hauraki Catchment Board on the development of the area.

In September that year the Centennial Park Trust Board was formed on a similar basis as the Eden Park Trust Board to control the seven acres of land. The board was so named to mark the centenary of the Paeroa District, which took place during that year.

By December in the same year the Old Boys Club had won the contract to removes the stumps from the peat-land, levelling and preparing two playing fields, between Towers Street and the Te Awa Creek (the drain through the middle of the ground). Twelve months later the area was well grassed and ready for use.

Attention then turned to accommodation. A large area facing Towers Street was filled and compacted for a pavilion foundations. There was a tremendous input of machinery and time from the farming members within the club and the club members.

The project could not have been accomplished without the most generous assistance from H. G. Leach and Company, owners of the Tirohia Quarry, supplying 2000 cu.m. of filling and Provincial Transport providing the vehicles to cart the filling onto the site and earth-moving machinery for levelling and compacting.

In readiness for the coming rugby season an ablution block was erected. There were four dressing rooms, shower room and boiler room. One of the dressing rooms was used by Old Boys as a temporary club rooms as they had sold their Wharf Street building and injected the $20,000 received in to the park project.

The Borough Council insisted that the Trust Board must be formalised and the inaugural meeting was held on May 2, 1976, with nine representatives from Paeroa Old Boys, five appointed by the Borough Council and three from the Paeroa-Waihi Cricket Association.

The rugby club's representatives were Basil Morrison, Calvin Russek, David Milner, Barry Osborne, Bryan Dunn, Bruce Peacock, Hugo Percy, Huia Martin and Bruce Sayer. The council's appointees were Councillors Frank Johansen and Bob Morrissey, with John Cotter, Mike Cotter and Bruce Hoskins. The cricketers were John McDonald, Robin Cooper and Jim Mellow.

At the board's first meeting Basil Morrison was elected president, John McDonald secretary and Calvin Russek treasurer.

In December, 1976, the first piles for the pavilion were driven by local contractors Lee Brothers Builders Limited and stage one of the building was underway.

At the start of the 1977 winter sports season, on March 24, 1977, the Centennial Park playing fields and ablution block were officially opened. There was a setback to the pavilion when strong winds blew in the large highlight windows across the front the building.

By the start of 1978 season the pavilion was a "shell" and the Old Boys club moved into the building and used it as their clubrooms as they went about finishing off the interior.

In July that year gale force winds again blew in the large highlights windows, but on this occasion the wind ripped off part of the roof and did structural damage. There was also considerable damage to furniture and fittings. The total cost was $20,000. The roof had to be redesigned.

The Ohinemuri County Council, in 1979, purchased four acres (1.62ha.) of land adjoining Centennial Park, between the Te Awa Creek and fronting Norwood Road. The funding came from subdivision reserve contributions from subdivisions on or close to the borough boundary. This area was gifted to the Borough Council.

The area was named Brenan Field, after a well-known business and sporting family of Paeroa going back to the 1890s and it was added to the Centennial Park complex. Paeroa Old Boys successfully tendered for the full development of this ground, stumping, levelling, drainage, sowing the grass seed. This field was ready for use for in 1982 winter season.

The complex now had one rugby field close to the pavilion, a soccer field, and Brenan Field with a cricket pitch constructed between the rugby and soccer field.

Ten years of vigorous fund raising, many hours of volunteer work and the generosity of the local business community came to fruition on March 22, 1980, when the Under-Secretary to the Minister of Sport and Recreation, Ken Comber, officially opened the total complex.

The total cost of the project was $156,000 and of this amount $107,000 was in hand at the opening, fund-raised by a countless number of projects and grants. Paeroa Old Boys had contributed $20,000 from the sale of its building, plus the $7200 received from ground development contracts; $15,000 was received from the Government Sports and Recreation Fund, the Borough Council $1500 and the land, $2000 from the local sport and recreation fund.

The outstanding amount of $49,000 was met by a $37,000 loan from Waikato Savings Bank (guaranteed by 10 members of the board at $5000 each) and $12,000 loan from New Zealand Breweries to cover bar facilities.

The total value of the pavilion was around $200,000 and the whole complex $300,000.

The main floor area is 480 sq.m. including the dinning area; 250 sq.m. mezzanine floor and 30 sq.m. committee room. The ablution block comprise four changing rooms, ample showers and two plunge pools.

Disaster struck in April, 1981, when Paeroa was devastated by the largest flood in the history of the district. The sewerage-contaminated water about 80cm deep inundated the building and stayed for over two days before draining away. All the furnishings, floor coverings, furniture and equipment had to be dumped. The interior walls had to be stripped to over 50cm. above the floodwater level and the building left to dry-out. The estimated cost of the damage was $50,000 and it took six months before the pavilion was fully operational again.

With the completion of the Waihou Valley flood protection scheme for Paeroa including the installation of two huge flood pumps on the Main Drain, only the Centennial Park ground is inundated with flood water and then for about 12 hours even during the most severe storms over the last 25 years.

A view of Centennial Park from Norwood Road.

A view of Centennial Park from Norwood Road.

Centennial Park: A Vision Fulfilled
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 52, September 2008
A view of Centennial Park from Norwood Road.

As sporting activities increased on the park it was found necessary to re-organise the governance of the area. In 1984 Old Boys signed an agreement with the Trust Board to take over the responsibility for the operation of the complex and leased the grounds from the local authority.

Lighting was installed for night training and in the early 1990's further drainage of the No. 1 field was undertaken. A gymnasium was added around 1994.

With rugby, cricket (including Thames Valley representative games), soccer (until they moved to the Rawhitiroa Reserve in the mid-1990s), touch, gymnasium, boxing, harriers, primary school rugby using the Centennial Park facilities, Basil Morrison's vision has been fulfilled. The complex is also a popular venue for many of the district's social functions.

There has been countless hours of volunteer involvement, a tremendous contribution generously given by firms and individuals in plant, equipment and donations in cash and kind and a very supportive community to culminate in today's facilities—a community project which is the envy of many small rural towns in New Zealand.