WGAC go ahead

Warragul & Drouin Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Yvette Brand A $10.9 mil­lion tender for re­de­vel­op­ment of the West Gipp­s­land Arts Cen­tre has been ap­proved by Baw Baw Shire.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers cheered coun­cil­lors when they voted five to three to ac­cept the tender.

Coun­cil agreed to pro­ceed with the project de­spite not se­cur­ing fed­eral govern­ment fund­ing.

Fi­nan­cials for the project show the to­tal cost will be $13.4 mil­lion which in­cludes $4 mil­lion to be bor­rowed by coun­cil, $4 mil­lion from the state govern­ment and $1.15 mil­lion from coun­cil’s de­vel­op­ment con­tri­bu­tion pro­gram. Coun­cil has al­ready spent al­most $820,000 on the project so far, leaving a $3 mil­lion deficit that, fail­ing fed­eral funds, will be funded by coun­cil in the next two bud­gets – tak­ing the to­tal ratepay­ers’ com­mit­ment to $9.4 mil­lion.

Any funds raised through lo­cal fundrais­ing will lessen the bur­den on coun­cil.

The re­de­vel­op­ment will in­crease the arts cen­tre’s seat­ing ca­pac­ity from 510 to 760 pa­trons.

From p1 It also will im­prove ac­ces­si­bil­ity with a new lift con­nect­ing all four build­ing lev­els; mul­ti­ple ac­cess points to the au­di­to­rium and im­proved wheel­chair ac­cess.

Au­di­to­rium and theatre up­grades as well as ad­di­tional back of house fa­cil­i­ties, ex­panded foyer and café are also part of the plans.

It is ex­pected the arts cen­tre will be closed un­til July next year. Staff will con­tinue to be em­ployed. Per­ma­nent staff will be re­de­ployed within the cur­rent shire staff ac­cord­ing to skills.

Nine com­mu­nity mem­bers ad­dressed coun­cil on the arts cen­tre re­de­vel­op­ment with eight of the speak­ers call­ing on coun­cil to award the tender and sup­port the project.

One sub­mit­ter, Bruce McDon­ald said he was in favour of the ex­pand­ing the art cen­tre’s seat­ing ca­pac­ity and as­so­ci­ated works but he op­posed a num­ber of com­po­nents in the project in­clud­ing de­mo­li­tion of the for­mer en­gi­neer’s build­ing (old li­brary). He also called on coun­cil to re­turn the cen­tre aisle.

Mov­ing coun­cil ac­cept the tender from Build­ing En­gi­neer­ing Pty Ltd, Cr Mikaela Power said coun­cil had to con­sider fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity, the com­mu­nity’s vi­sion and coun­cil’s so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

She said when the for­mer War­ragul Shire Coun­cil con­sid­ered the orig­i­nal arts cen­tre pro­posal more than 30 years ago, the then shire president Al­bert Far­ring­ton urged coun­cil­lors to go the next step and she said it was no dif­fer­ent for the cur­rent coun­cil­lors. “Let’s be brave,” she said.

Cr Jess O’Don­nell said coun­cil never ex­pected a re­turn from sports fa­cil­i­ties but it still pro­vided them be­cause that was what the com­mu­nity wanted.

“This is not just about pas­sion, it’s about com­mu­nity con­nec­tion,” she said.

Cr Peter Kos­tos said the de­ci­sion to go ahead with the re­de­vel­op­ment was made in the good faith of the pre­vi­ous coun­cil so it was up to this coun­cil to move for­ward and ac­cept the tender.

Cr Dar­ren Wal­lace said the cur­rent fa­cil­ity had a mul­ti­tude of ac­cess and amenity is­sues and the re­de­vel­op­ment would com­plete the orig­i­nal vi­sion.

Mayor Joe Gauci said the arts cen­tre was one of the most recog­nis­able build­ings in the shire.

“It would be crim­i­nal to let this build­ing get to the stage that it is not main­tained.

“We need to plan for the fu­ture. It seems like a big spend now but it will be a spend for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” he said.

Crs Power, Kos­tos, Gauci, Wal­lace and O’Don­nell sup­ported the tender while Crs Danny Goss, Keith Cook and Michael Leaney op­posed the mo­tion.

De­spite pre­vi­ous par­tic­i­pa­tion in de­bate and de­ci­sion mak­ing, Cr Tri­cia Jones said it had been pointed out to her that she may have a con­flict of in­ter­est be­cause of her close res­i­den­tial prox­im­ity to the arts cen­tre.

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