WORK could commence on the demolition of the Cowes Cultural Centre as early as July 1, 2020.
The date, described “as a guideline only”, is buried deep in hundreds of pages of demolition tender documents, issued by the Bass Coast Shire Council last Wednesday, April 22.
However, the speed with which the shire is moving to call in the wrecking ball has prompted concern by two of the key resident and ratepayer groups in the area, the Bass Coast Ratepayer and Residents Association and Island Voice. Spokesman for the BCRRA, Andrew Marston, said that while his group wasn’t opposed to the project per se, members were concerned about the apparent “haste” in the demolition phase, the lack of community consultation and the possibility that a vacant site might be left idle for years.
Secretary of Island Voice, Linda Marston, said her group is equally concerned.
“It’s difficult to understand why they are moving so quickly to demolish the centre when they haven’t even designed its replacement, let alone find someone to build it,” Mrs Marston said.
In a public statement last week, the council admitted as much.
“The design process is expected to begin in June 2020 and be completed by early 2021. Construction of the new facility will start in 2021 and is expected to take 12 to 14 months.”
Near neighbour, Greg Price, across Church Street at Alex Scott and Staff is fearful the site could be cleared and left to become an eyesore for years like the Isle of Wight.
“You’ve got a perfectly good building there that the community can use until such time as you have all the funding in place, an approved design and builder engaged,” said Mr Price.
“And you know those steps can take years to complete.”
But the tender documents reveal the shire is already moving to vacate the premises which houses the library, art, drama, community meetings and tourism functions.
Alternative accommodation space was to have been found by March, it claims, “boxing” and furniture relocation was to have been commenced by April, moving scheduled for May, a meeting with the demolition contractor in June and “starts-complete” demolition of the centre in July.
Demolition tenders close on May 13.
Mrs Marston said there was also concern the speed of demolition might be politically motivated.
She said she didn’t think it was about eliminating “stand alone” hopes by pulling down the old shire offices but hinted at something else.
It has since been revealed, by sources close to the council, possibly in breach of the shire’s new Media Engagement and Social Media Policy, that the building is being knocked down now to lock in a future council to the $20 million new cultural centre project.
“If the State Government goes ahead with the elections (Local Government) this year (October 2020), the building comes down now. If the elections are delayed, it can wait.”
Council’s answers your questions
SHIRE CEO Ali Wastie has responded clarifying various points.
Q1. When do tenders close?
A1. Tenders for Stage 1 of the demolition close on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.
Q2. When are shire staff and community groups vacating the centre? Have you given staff and community groups a date to vacate?
A2. The Cultural Centre is not taking any bookings from July 1, 2020. All groups effected by the demolition have been informed that they will be required to vacate by June 30, 2020. Council is working with the effected groups.
Q3. Do you have a proposed date for the commencement of work on the Cowes Cultural Centre, and a proposed completion date?
A3. The design process is expected to begin in June 2020 and be completed by early 2021. Construction of the new facility will start in 2021 and is expected to take 12 to 14 months.
Q4. Have you arranged for the $10m low interest loan (from the State Government?)? At what interest? When will the funds be available?
A4. The State Government has provided Council with a $10 million low-interest loan for the project, through the Victorian Community Infrastructure Loan Scheme. Further grant and funding opportunities are also being explored.
Q5, Is council contributing $5m from its own funds?
A5. Council will allocate funding of $19 million in the draft 2020/21 and 2021/22 budgets and strategic resource plans for the construction of a cultural and community facility in Cowes.
Q6. Is there any further community consultation planned before or after the final design is available?
A6. The successful architects will be announced within the next six weeks. Once appointed, Council will work with the architects to engage with the community and stakeholders, throughout the design process.
Q7. Why demolish the building when the pathway to a new building is not yet clear.
A7. Demolishing the facility ahead of construction is prudent to ensure that the construction site is clean and any potential latent conditions have been removed. This will enable a far swifter construction process.