Mission Accomplished

Words by  Will Johnston
Roger Richardson Roger Richardson

The owners of New Plymouth’s Bowlarama saw an opportunity to develop an empty roof cavity into an underground warzone themed game. 

The large space, roughly the same size as two basketball courts, has been transformed into the region’s only laser tag facility, adding to the venue’s many gaming options. 

Bowlarama already features a 16-lane ten pin bowling facility, an 18-hole black light mini putt course and an arcade. 

But owner Shelly Szedlak saw an opportunity to expand the venue’s offerings to customers. 

She got the idea from her travels overseas, especially in Australia. 

Venues across the ditch featured bowling alleys, arcades and laser tag so she wanted to ‘see how it goes’ here. 

“We’ve always had this great big space above in the roof cavity up there,” she said. “We thought we would put the laser tag at the back of the building but decided to go upstairs. We know these things won’t survive by themselves, but when they’re in a family complex they will.”

Shelly knows a thing or two about ten pin bowling after her parents owned centres in Christchurch, Masterton and Wellington. She’s now operating the New Plymouth business with her father, Frank, who opened it 30 years ago. 

The recent renovations to get laser tag up and running aren’t the building’s first. The family completed a major revamp eight years ago.

“When we turned everything around, we added the mini putt,” she said. 

The entrance was put at the other end of the building and brand new ten pin bowling lanes added at the time. But Szedlak says this makeover is the biggest the business has seen. 

To install the laser tag game, it wasn’t just a case of setting up the course upstairs — massive amounts of work have gone into getting it up to scratch. 

Work started on the upstairs section of the building in Alert Level 3 when tradespeople could go back to work after lockdown. 

Scaffolding was erected around the building and a big weather-proof wrap covered the entire upstairs external area.  

The cavity was stripped out, structural steel was installed, new concrete was poured under the lanes, a section of the wall was raised and a new roof put on. 

Sound-proof underlay was also laid down to minimise the noise for patrons downstairs, she said. 

“The investment of the building has been huge,” Szedlak said. 

A stairwell and lift were installed to the upstairs area. When customers walk up there they will assemble in a foyer with a few arcade games to occupy them while they wait to play. There’s also a briefing room, an area to put on the equipment and two entries into the laser tag arena. 

The maize-like area features obstacles, stairs, walls, smoke machines and many features to match an underground environment. The black light and glow-in-the-dark colours will add to the experience when teams try and tag their opposition and complete the missions.    

It was designed by a Canadian company, who worked on the venue’s mini putt course. 

“They are a worldwide company and the walls and the graphics are amazing.”

There are two home bases at either end of the course, with beacons for players to shoot. The technology used was sourced from Laser Force in Australia. 

“I met the rep in Australia and the reliability of the packs and technology is pretty cool.”

It includes battle suits, phasers and scoring system which all communicate with each other. 

“When you get tagged, the vest will deactivate for six seconds and then come back on. Even the phasers with the touch screen and different characters, the stuff you can do is just crazy.” 

Szedlak said ordinarily the companies would install the arena and equipment themselves, but thanks to the Covid environment, her team, led by Shelly’s partner Steve, had to do it alone. 

“It’s been a real challenge to do this. Even building materials and those kinds of things have been really hard to source. We had to wait 10 days to two weeks to wait for materials to come back in.” 

It’s delayed the opening of the arena after they were hoping to open during Easter. 

The opening date is now anticipated to be early June, and it seems locals can’t wait!

“We’ve had a lot of inquiries for work-dos and birthday parties already,” says Shelly.

Online bookings are available because of the structured style of the game. 

“Sessions are 20 minutes, which includes a safety briefing, gear set up and the mission itself.”

During the renovations, the business also upgraded to new drop-down projector screens above the bowling centre and a new sound system.

“Clem Electrical have been fantastic, they’ve gone above and beyond,” she said. 

“A huge thank you to my father Frank for overseeing the structural building aspects of the project and believing in my vision. Also my partner Steve, who is by trade a builder and Tenpin Bowling Lane Installer, but has worked under the lanes, helped with the building construction and he took on the task of fitting out the LaserTag, plastered, painted and done everything in between.  We would have struggled without him.”

Shelly pays tribute to her staff too, “who have tolerated the mess and worked very hard under trying conditions sometimes — thanks for putting up with it all.  

“Also thank you to all our customers for putting up with the chaos, we know it’s been hard at times, but hope you all enjoy what we have created.”

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