Fresh uncertainty surrounds the future of Ararat’s Aradale Mental Hospital with lead contamination the latest issue threatening the historic site.
Melbourne Polytechnic, which leases the state-owned site as part of its Ararat campus, will close the heritage-listed buildings to minimise risks to the public.
The contamination risk stems from lead residue in dust from deteriorating paint in ageing buildings dating back to the 1860s at the site.
The buildings will remain closed until the site undergoes a clean-up decontamination program.
The closure means tours of the site, popular with visiting tourists and considered by many in the tourism fraternity as a money spinner for the city, have also ceased.
Melbourne Polytechnic, which does not use the contaminated buildings for regular classroom
teaching, has confirmed all other sections of the campus will remain open.
Melbourne Polytechnic chief executive Frances Coppolillo said the lead contamination presented a low risk to public health, but it was important to close the buildings to reduce potential risk.
“Following a review of the former Aradale Mental Hospital, Melbourne Polytechnic has decided to close the buildings to the public until clean-up works can be completed,” she said.
“While the report from our contamination experts has identified the presence of the lead represents a very low risk to casual visitors, the buildings are being closed to avoid potential harm to people who visit the site more regularly and therefore have a greater risk of exposure.
“Due to the advanced age of the buildings, much of the existing paint work, both internally and externally, is in poor condition.
“As a result, there is a risk to people from prolonged exposure to lead residue in dust within the buildings.
“While recent visitors who might have attended tours or events in the buildings are not considered to be at risk, Melbourne Polytechnic is advising the small group of people who access the buildings twice or more each week to seek medical advice.
“I stress that the overall risk is still considered low even for these frequent users.
“Nevertheless it is important that they work with their doctor to determine that there has been no adverse health impact from their potential exposure.”
The Aradale hospital, originally Ararat Lunatic Asylum, reached its 150th birthday in 2017.
At its peak of operations in 1959 it housed about 900 patients and was a major employer in the rural city with close to 500 staff members.
It closed in 1993 after a State Government decision to ‘de-institutionalise’ patients in the mental-hospital system.
It became a campus of Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE in 2001 as a wine college.
Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE changed its name to Melbourne Polytechnic in 2014.
Much of the infrastructure on site, which includes about 60 buildings, is made from stone and its primary structures are dominant features of the Ararat landscape.
Ararat Rural City Council chief executive Tim Harrison said the council, which had no input into the decision, understood the impact the closure would have on businesses with the ceasing of Aradale tours.
“The council will work with affected business owners if they need support, but we hope a resolution to this issue can be found,” he said.