Before: Chicago cast and crew, from left, Caleb Wearne, Jay Nelson, Oscar Llewellyn and Jake Waldron, pictured last year at the Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre before renovations began. mm203517

THE upgrade of the Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre is well underway and just four weeks in, the auditorium’s been partly gutted to make room for better seating, lighting, sounds, technical systems, and more space for people in wheelchairs.
After years of small fixes; local schools, theatre and dance groups are looking forward to the upgrade – which borders on a rebuild of the 1980s-built centre.
There are also plans to turn the foyer area into a separate event area and the Bass Coast Shire Council’s considering making it available for hire.
On a tour of the centre last week, the council’s coordinator of recreation and culture Mark Lindsay, admitted the upgrade’s a big job.
But it’s an impressive effort by workers who went in with their hammers from January 1 – usually a time when businesses close over the New Year period – to ensure they keep to the April 30 deadline.
The plans from the original re-build in the 1980s have been lost so it’s been a challenging task for workers, discovering beams and other parts they didn’t know existed.
The walls are getting a fresh coat of paint inside the theatre and the chairs have been removed to make room for new seats of the same red-maroon colour.
“The seats have timber backings and timber rests. There’ll be new carpet throughout the auditorium,” Mark said.
“We’ve also got eight spaces for wheelchairs. The idea is, because there are permanent chairs between them, their carer can sit next to them as well.”
A re-engineering of the orchestra pit will see the hideous poles removed and space for an extra three to four people.
“Kirk Skinner and I came through here the other day and he’s a little bit, or a lot, excited.
“It’s been a long time coming for him. He was part of the original 1982 opening.”
Many of the centre’s users asked the council if they could black out the wall at the back of the stage and so they included it in the budgeted works.
“It was a massive job. There were many litres of paint.
“The idea when you go into a theatre is, especially for the first three or four rows, that you don’t look past the sets and see the block work.”
There will also be upgrades to the light and sound systems.
“It’ll look different, it’ll look fresher and it’ll work better for the people using it.
“It’s an awesome project, it’s massive.”
Production crews will be able to use smoke and haze machines without setting off alarms.
“We have dance groups use this, as well as schools, the Wonthaggi Citizens’ Band, Rotary; it’s multi-functional.
“The upgrade will mean it can accommodate even more for everyone.”
The works are expected to be completed by late April.