The construction of the school and the temple commenced in the 1950s. The labour for the construction was performed by volunteer workers known as "labour missionaries." Volunteers for the programme came from all walks of life, and from many countries. The workers were given a very small allowance (10 shillings per week) for basic necessities, and initially were called to serve for two years. Many however extended their time upwards to between 8 and 10 years. Others left and came back later to serve additional missions.
The building missionary programme was considered a labour of love by its participants, and with the great sense of community that it engendered, it has made a lasting impression on everyone who was a part of it. A bond was created that has lasted, and the fruits of their labours are part of the lives of the members of the LDS Church in New Zealand.
The property on Tuikaramea Road was chosen to be the site of the project. Gordon B. Young, the mission president at the time, had previously driven out to where the property was and knew immediately that the site was where the school was to be built. He almost drove off the road when he saw the site, because he briefly saw buildings on the site as they would be in the not to distant future. Early in 1950, George R. Biesinger was called to serve as general supervisor of Church building in the South Pacific. Because of stringent economic conditions in new Zealand no subcontractors could be engaged, no skilled labor was available, and there were no domestic sources of supply for the bulk of the material he would need. He would have to import his own cement, hardware, structural and other materials mostly from the US. As for labor he would have to leave that to providence.
There wasn't much there when the first building missionaries arrived, so there was a lot of improvisation. Everyone converged on a home called the "Green House" that had been moved from one part of the project to its new location for meetings, meals at times and as a general place to socialise. The fireplace was always a nice place to huddle around, and there were also movies brought in once a week for a night of relaxation. It also served as temporary accommodation for some of the missionaries. The winter at this particular time was harsh (by New Zealand standards) and the land surrounding the green house was mud. The only available form of transportation at the time happened to be a jeep which was put to good use by Elder Beisinger to get around the project.Church services were conducted for a time in a building in the former Garden Place in Hamilton. Come service time, there was always a competing service from another church on the street below. Later early morning seminary type meetings were held on the building site for the missionaries before going to work.
A large part of the farmland of the project was peat, and it was transformed slowly into proper arable land with the help of an agricultural expert called from the U.S. Often the peat would burn, and it wasn't unusual to see peat fires off in the distance. There was often a dusty reddish atmosphere about parts of the project because of the peat. The farmland itself became a source of vegetables for the missionaries. Wheat was also grown, and there were also cattle and sheep.
The bricks used for construction were manufactured at an onsite plant that was put into operation in 1951. Many of the bricks were sent abroad for use in buildings in Tonga and Samoa. A new plant was built in 1956, and it was noted that the quality of the bricks manufactured improved greatly.
Church activities started to be held at Temple View in 1954, and these were called "Hui Tau". They were activity times for members from all over New Zealand to come and sing, dance, play sports and attend religious services. The activities would usually last for a week. They were fun affairs, and the proselyting missionaries joined in as well. The proselyting missionaries from all of NZ were billeted out with various families in Temple View. The members who had traveled far usually stayed in makeshift accommodations. Initially many stayed in improvised sleeping quarters in the joinery building which was one of the first of the bigger buildings constructed and the school classroom buildings. The various musical items, skits and other stage activities were held in the joinery building in the evenings. For the next "Hui Taus" accommodations were in tents which at the time were located on farmland below the schools tennis courts, next to what was called "Mara Park". New Zealand was in a mission status at the time, and these events were the best means to meet, share experiences, receive spiritual instruction and feel a sense of belonging.
Life in Temple View evolved quickly and accommodation was built for the single men, and for the families. Concrete pathways were built to connect the buildings. There was also a small canteen to serve the basic daily needs of the missionaries. The single men were accommodated in a kind of dormitory which was nicknamed the bunkhouse. The men's showers were located across from their accommodation. Small cottages were built for the families in the area behind where the George R. Biesinger (GRB) Hall is today.
Food was sent in from members throughout the country, and some was grown or made locally. It was also standard procedure for golden queen peaches to be sent from Hawkes Bay to be made into preserves during the summer months. Butter was also manufactured on site. A makeshift abattoir was built to provide the meat for consumption. At times younger children (both local and American) would wait for the slaughter of the sheep to retrieve knucklebones for a school time game.
The construction of amenities, general purpose buildings, and school buildings occupied the lives of the building missionaries during their working hours. However, when concrete had to be poured into foundations or in other parts of buildings, there wasn't the ready mixed concrete technology that there is today, so it was poured by hand. That meant that a portable concrete mixer was loaded by hand with the correct mix of sand and concrete, mixed with the right amount of water and then poured into wheelbarrows which the building missionaries wheeled to wherever it was needed. Concrete has to be poured continuously until completed, so that meant that the building missionaries had to sometimes work around the clock. The whole of the project was usually mobilized for a cement pour, and the sisters always provided refreshments for the workers throughout the night.
One building became the church service building on Sunday while construction on site was in progress and that building was called the "Kai hall". This was a dual function building for social activities as well. Movies were shown on Friday night. In the evenings a section of the building was used as a gymnasium for the building missionaries during their after hours. The labour missionaries held many joint social activities with the public from Hamilton in this building. These activities such as formal dances and concerts did much for local public relations.
There was also a big band scene (à la Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey). A band was formed from the building missionaries who were instrumentalists, which performed at concerts and for any major ball that was held. At about this same time a big band ensemble from the US was touring New Zealand, and as part of their tour they visited Temple View and performed. In time the music of choice for local dances came from the younger missionary groups that comprised 3 guitarists and a drummer. Several concerts were also performed by the building missionaries in the Embassy theater in Hamilton. The children of the Mayor of Hamilton at the time were very impressed with the remarks of their father regarding the activities of the Latter-day Saints and the building missionaries.
The younger children of the missionary families attended the local primary school in Frankton and Maeroa immediate school in Hamilton. The exposure of the New Zealand school students to the influx of expat American young children was at times quite startling. New Zealand was very insular, and to hear new accents, and to mix with people from a different English speaking culture was a new and pleasant experience for all involved. Many of the students from both schools who mixed with the building missionary children have carried their memories into their adult hood, and often ask after their former friends many years later.
David O. McKay visited New Zealand in 1955, and was duly impressed with the project. He initially came to curtail the building programme, but on visiting with the members, feeling their enthusiasm and goodwill and inspecting the construction sites he decided to expand it. He authorised the construction of two more buildings: the David O. McKay Auditorium and the Matthew Cowley administration building. The classrooms and the dormitories under construction were initially to be the extent of the school. A little later on looking up at the hill of the farm adjacent to the project he pointed and said a "there we shall build a temple".
The building programme took on added emphasis with the announcement of the construction of the Temple and the two additional school buildings. The ground for the temple was broken on December 21 by President Wendell B. Mendenhall, Ariel S. Balliff (President of the new Zealand Mission), and Elder George. R. Biesinger. Immediately after the ceremony, excavation of the site was started, and within 72 hours a pit twice the size of a football field was dug out to a depth of 19 feet. President McKay had given everyone two years two build the temple. Elder Rosenvall who was previously working on the motel was set apart to supervise the building of the temple.
There were no fatalities or serious injuries during the construction of the temple, school and accompanying buildings. There were the occasional minor injuries, and of course the odd fisticuffs, but nothing serious. Two infants died in the early stages of the project. One child was still born to a sister who with her husband were temporarily residing in the greenhouse, and another child drowned in the stream that used to run behind the single men's accommodation.
As the project grew it became a center of attraction for the people in the area, and tours were conducted for the general public around the project on the weekends. There were the odd misfits who gravitated to Temple View, because they saw it as a haven of sorts. Some were Latter-day Saint misfits and others were not Latter-day Saints. There was one individual who ingratiated himself into the project, but where he came from no one knew. He wasn't unpleasant, but he was quite a mystery. There happened to be a missionary on the project who was formerly in the N.Z. Police Force, and he checked the wanted records at the local police station, and found that the man in question was running from the law. Police, of course, came and apprehended him.
A choir was an integral part of Church services, and it eventually became a strong focus for the musical talent of the missionaries during the building of the project. The choir was conducted by Joan Pierce and through her direction the many members of the choir were able to blend their voices in a way that added to the spiritual harmony of the project. They were able to do this by the choice of songs (both Māori and English) that were sung, and by the quality of their singing.
Throughout the building of the project, church activity was conducted through the direction of leaders who were adamant about following correct procedure. This correct procedure enabled a lot of personal development, kept general behaviour everywhere on the site above board, and proper. Behaviour throughout the project was exemplary and it was reinforced by the behaviour of the many supervisors who came from the US to labour on the project. One night a week was reserved as a social night for various musical, drama and other activities. It used to be called "Mutual" time, but the activity has since been discontinued.
The life for the building missionaries had a sense of Kiwi normalcy through the organization of sports teams, and general weekly social activities. There was always a rugby team which played in the senior reserve grade, a basketball team played in a league in the city of Hamilton, movies once a week, and on Mondays an activity night for everyone. The Monday activity night started out as an entertainment night where anyone who wanted to present something or perform a musical item could do so. Later the Monday night activity became a time when the building missionaries were able to evaluate their progress with reports on the status of the individual projects. It was essentially an extra large Family Home Evening.