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by Claire Allison

A devastating fire at Timaru’s historic West End Hall has been the catalyst for a major upgrade.

Nearly 17 months ago, the 93-year-old hall was almost destroyed by fire, after rubbish bins next to the hall were set alight.

The hall, owned by the Timaru District Council and administered by the West End Hall Charitable Trust, has been unusable since the fire as contractors worked to repair and renovate the facility.

Timaru’s four Masonic lodges, which usually meet in lodge rooms attached to the hall, have had to meet in lodge rooms in Winchester or at the South Canterbury RSA.

On Friday, at the official opening, dozens of people visited the new-look hall, paid for by a combination of an insurance payout and an extra $100,000 put into the project by the council. The total project cost $792,000.

Group manager corporate services Tina Rogers said that although the June 13, 2016 fire caused a huge loss to the community, the council had taken the opportunity to make significant improvements to the hall.

“We’re here as the result of a fire, but since then, good things have risen from the ashes.” – Damon Odey

They included the installation of heat pumps, double-glazed windows and insulation, removing the stage area and creating a meeting room, and installing a modern kitchen and bar.

Importantly, the work included a cage for the waste bins to ensure the hall was better protected from fire in the future.

“We’ve been sure to keep the original look and feel of the building, while offering the modern facilities and conveniences people expect.

Sweet success . . . Amanda Davies sells sweets on behalf of the Craighead Kindergarten during the opening celebrations of West End Hall on Friday. PHOTO: ALEXIA JOHNSTON

“The hall has been an integral part of the community since it was built around 1924, hosting everything from weddings and dances to birthdays and Zumba classes, and it will be great to see it come back to life again.”

Timaru Mayor Damon Odey said the renovated hall was a great result, and he was proud the council had such a facility.

“We’re here as the result of a fire, but since then, good things have risen from the ashes. Look at the difference in here now. It’s quite phenomenal.”

West End Hall Charitable Trust chairman Eion Miller said the trust was looking forward to taking care of the improved facility.

“I just hope the community gets in behind us and the council and really uses the building. It’s really good now. Between the trust and the council the community is blessed with a pretty good asset.”