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Encore for build team

Gemco Construction manager Eddie Holmes will know how good a job the team of over 100 tradespeople has done when he sits down to enjoy one of the 30-plus shows scheduled for the Hawke’s Bay Opera House stage in 2020.

Eddie has been on-site in a porta-office since 2017 and when the project is fully completed with the handover of the Municipal Building, he will have been leading the project for over four years. It will bring down the curtain on what will be the longest, largest and most complex projects of his career.

The first two stages are now complete with the opening of the Opera House, which was first built in 1916, and the new multi-use venue called Functions on Hastings (formerly the open air Plaza building).

For Eddie, he’s seen the Opera House reemerge from a dark, wet and cold building to an enhanced version of its former splendor.

“I would come in during the early days of the rebuild and unlock the doors to a dark, damp and spooky building. The walls were running with water, the seats were moldy, it was like a freezer, and the early stages of the strengthening work did nothing to improve it, it just added dust and noise to the equation,” Eddie says.

Life has slowly returned to the Opera House, which has been strengthened to 75 percent of the Building Code. It’s been carpeted and painted throughout, including significant repairs to the failing ornate plaster ceiling and surrounding detailing. The stage floor structure has also been strengthened and new toilets and refreshment bars have been built. Many areas have been returned to their former glory, or as near as possible, while incorporating the upgrade and ensuring the building remains functional.

What hasn’t changed is the buildings’ acoustics. It’s still one of the best opera houses in the Southern Hemisphere.

Eddie says that after two-and-a-bit years of hard work by the Gemco team and all of the subbies, the character and personality of the building have come back to life.

“When we reached the stage of final clean-up and rebooted the air conditioning, it was a real milestone. I now find it a really stimulating building to walk through, particularly when I go through to open up and turn the lights on in the morning while all is quiet and nobody is around. It’s very invigorating.”

Like many, Eddie can’t wait to sit down and enjoy his first show. He is in no doubt that the council made the right decision to invest $32 million (including $23 million of council funding and $9.5 million of external funds) in this magnificent Category 1 classification heritage building.

The initial brief was to strengthen the building to 75 percent of the Building Code but the work was to be done in

such a way that nobody would notice the difference. Partway through the project, the decision was made to increase the initial investment and give it a ‘50-year makeover’ at the same time. This has resulted in a truly amazing outcome.

“The timing is perfect for the Opera House to reopen. We have so many entertainment options these days with online streaming services and hospitality options but I think there’s a real demand by the public to attend live shows, and what better way to enjoy a live performance than in either the Opera House or the new function facility.”

To get to the end of the first stage has been one of the biggest challenges of Eddie’s career, but it’s also helped prepare him and his team for the next stage, which he says is more difficult: the rebuild of the Municipal Building.

“Nothing is harder than this sort of work, it’s a logistical challenge. You can preempt as much as you like but you don’t actually know what you’re dealing with until you open it up and get started. It has been an extremely hard, dirty, noisy job in a dingy environment, but because of the unique character of the building and a remarkable team to work with, we got stuck in and pulled it off, and surprisingly, not one person asked to be moved off the job to another.”

When the entire Toitoi complex is finally revealed in 2021 and the credits start rolling, Eddie says there will be many unsung heroes who can celebrate the roles they’ve played in breathing new life back into Hastings’ CBD.

“We have had some people put in outstanding commitment. There’s been some very clever people involved and everyone has bought into the project, from the project leads to the Gemco team to all of the subcontractors. A huge thanks to all!”