Foxton & Beach : Dealing with a devastating fire

April 11, 2022

It was a quiet morning at the Foxton and Beach Bowling Club on Tuesday 2nd March 2022.

Twilight bowls has just been held the previous evening, and as usual there had been a good crowd of 40 or 50 bowlers.  But the next day, no one was playing bowls.  And the clubhouse was still locked and empty after the evening before.

Around 11, a neighbour raised the alarm : smoke and flames were billowing from the clubhouse.

By the time the local volunteer fire brigade arrived 10 minutes later, the clubhouse was well ablaze.  And despite their efforts, and the efforts of units from Waitarere Beach, Himatangi and Levin, the fire quickly swept through the whole clubhouse and destroyed everything.

For club members, it was devastating.

“We have yet to get the Fire Report,” says Club President Alan Shannon, “But it looks like the cause was probably an electrical wiring fault.  Not that it really matters.  The clubhouse and everything inside is a write-off anyway.”

Foxton & Beach is now discovering the hard reality of putting the club back together again.

“We felt we had pretty good insurance,” says Vice President, Chris Avery.  “The clubhouse was insured for a million; the green $180,000; the contents $140,000; and even the bar was insured for $5,000.  But when you hear what’s going to have to happen from here, you start realising that all that insurance may not cut the mustard.”

“The problems start with the asbestos.”

“We’re told that while there was only ‘low to medium grade’ asbestos in the building, even ‘low grade’ requires a lot of clean-up before demolition of what’s left can start.  They’re even talking that we may need to repair a couple of rinks on the green as well … the firemen were (understandably) all over the green with their boots and hoses.  Not to mention the asbestos dust that may be contaminating the green as well.”

“The carpet’s only 3 years old,” adds Chris. “They’re already suggesting renewing the whole green … they reckon that doing just a couple of rinks won’t give a very good long-term result.”

But the most frustrating thing is the waiting.

“The insurer wont accept the claim until the Fire Report come out,” explains Alan. “And we haven’t got that yet.  I believe it’s due with 25 working days, which makes the deadline in a week or so.  Meantime, we just have to sit here on our hands while the remainder of the bowls season winds up.”

“Because of the asbestos, we can’t even check whether there’s any contents or memorabilia that survived the fire and can be retrieved ... it’s a ‘hazard area’.”

“But it looks like everything’s gone.  Including all our honours boards and photographs.  We’d only just bought new chairs for the club .. they had only arrived 3 days before … $18,000 worth! And the bar had only been topped up the previous day for the twilight!”

The club has already appointed a Project Manager, Building Manager and a Building Committee.  There’s not only a replacement pavilion to consider, but what they do in the meantime.  It’s going to take a couple of years to put things back together.

Fortunately, the locals have come to the party.

“Waitarere Beach and Himatangi have offered their greens - not only for our regular roll-ups, but for us to complete the remainder of the season’s club championships.  The Manawatu Marine Boating Club has offered to treat our members as their members, and provide hospitality at member rates.  And the Senior Citizens Club over the fence has offered their facilities for committee meetings, free of charge.”

“But the goal is to get back into our own home as soon as possible. That means restoring the green, and getting some sort of temporary clubhouse up and running until a new one is built.”

On top of the demolition and clean-up of the burnt-out pavilion, a temporary clubhouse becomes yet another cost to soak up the insurance.

“There’s a number of options,” says Alan. “We can convert the implement shed into a crude clubhouse.  But even that’s got issues … it would be a big cost just to get power to the shed.  Another option is to buy a secondhand building and move it onto the site somewhere.  But once you start looking, there’s not a lot of right-sized buildings around for sale.”

“I guess we can also contemplate buying a new or used building which we can move on site, and later incorporated into the new pavilion.”

“It’ll be the Building Committee’s job to recommend what we can afford to do short term, medium term, and long term.  That won’t be helped by the fact that building costs are through the roof at the moment!”

That’s all the bad news.

The good news is that the Foxton and Beach Bowling Club is absolutely committed to getting back in business.

“We’ve got 60 full-playing members,” says Alan. “And another 200 or so casuals.  There’s plenty of people who want to keep playing bowls at Foxton Beach.”

For a lot of other clubs, a fire like this would be the club’s swansong.  But not Foxton.

“We’re already getting a lot of financial help from others,” says Chris.  “We’ve set up a Givealittle page and already have nearly $4,000.  We’d love to get any donations.  It all helps.  And this is probably the easiest place to donate.”

“The Naenae Bowling Club and Taita RSA are holding a Two-Day Open Charity Classic on 21st and 22nd May to raise money for the club.  Bowls Palmerston North is helping with a charity tournament too, and North End has invited us to a weekly mini-gala.”

“The club’s caterer, Lani Glastonbury, is donating $1 from every meal she serves at the Foxton Hotel.  It’s very generous, bearing in mind she’s out of a job at our club for a while!”

“We’ve asked the local council to give us rates relief.  And Bowls New Zealand has suspended levy payments.”

Despite this help, it’s going to be a hard road back for Foxton & Beach.  But it’s a fight that the club is up for.

“I guess the fire is a reminder to us all to look at our contingency plans,” says Alan. “Our honours boards are hard to replace, but we think we have photographs of them.  We’ve lost all the framed photos of the club’s officers, tournament winners and winners’ certificates that hung around the walls .., again, we’re not sure whether we can replace those either. It’s a wakeup call to at least digitally record the club’s memorabilia and history.”

“But the biggie is insurance.  We thought we had pretty generous insurance, but when it comes to the crunch, it looks like we’re going to be short quite a bit.”

But you can help.  Your donation to the Givealittle page will be much appreciated Click the link here.

We’ll check back with Foxton again in the months to come.

Kia kaha guys.