The bulk of $250,000 in additional funding Tenterfield Shire Council is receiving from the Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund (BCRRF) will go towards a $400,000 shortfall in what is needed to complete the Tenterfield Memorial Hall project.
Given the tight deadline for councils to submit applications under Stream 1 of Phase 2 of the program, an extraordinary council meeting was convened last month to debate how the grant could be allocated. Ultimately it was decided that $220,000 be directed to the hall, with $25,000 allocated to organisers of the proposed Autumn Leaves Festival and the remaining $5000 to a bushfire/drought art prize.
While Councillor Gary Verri proposed the art prize, he requested his vote against the overall funding decision be recorded as he considered it too 'Tenterfield-centric.'
"I've over Memorial Hall," he said, likening it to Wallaby Creek bridge which started off as a $600,000 project and turned into a million dollars, without a satisfactory result.
Other councillors were more supportive, led by Cr Greg Sauer.
"We've got to get this one done before we take anything else on," Cr Sauer said.
"It's used as an evacuation centre, as a conference centre, it ticks a lot of boxes. We've got a $400K job that needs finishing here."
The hall originally received just short of a million dollars from the state government's Stronger Country Communities Fund back in 2018, with a plan to transform it into a modern multi-purpose facility for major events.
Council's chief corporate officer Kylie Smith said the hall is a project that has grown as council seeks to address the many needs of user groups and recognising the importance of the building to the community.
The original $996,908 grant for the project was to update amenities and address drainage issues. Work started in March this year but the original completion date of August came and went. Given the problems sourcing materials throughout the pandemic council was granted an extension of the project until mid-2021.
The project involved the upgrade of the stormwater facilities under the building and out to the street to protect the building's foundations, new cladding to the side of the building, construction of the amenities wing (including change facilities) to the side of the hall and the addition of retractable seating which will seat around 400 people in a tiered seating arrangement.
Another $440,000 was allocated to the hall from Local Drought Stimulus Package funding, for internal acoustic, ventilation and insulation treatments. Ms Smith said this is in line with the goal of making the building fit for purpose as a conference centre and similar uses.
It was discovered that insulation and re-sheeting of the roof space was needed to address the building's underlying mold issue. Ms Smith said this change in scope reduced the amount of funding available to complete the full acoustic treatment recommended for the building to meet the needs of a conference venue, and further impacted on future use as an evacuation centre.
She said the latest BCRRF $225,000 allocation will help redress this, supporting additional works for the hall to function of a Disaster Evacuation Centre. This includes further acoustic treatments for when multiple agencies are using the space, serving clients in an emergency management setting. It also includes safety upgrades such as additional lighting.
In anticipation of funding becoming available council had already sought quotations for the works, coming in at around $400,000 to ensure that noise can be reduced to acceptable levels.
Ms Smith stressed that the BCRRF money was only in the application stage, with success not assured.
Function centre versus evacuation centre
"The use of the Memorial Hall as a function venue as opposed to an evacuation centre is based around the intensity of usage," Ms Smith said.
"With a conference the audience are engaging with a program that is designed for delivery from the staging area and people are invited to participate via audio visual interfaces such as microphones. This activity usually also sees a higher weight of persons concentrated in one area via the seating (necessitating different weight loads on the floor structure) and a higher number of people needing to be evacuated in the event of fires etc.
"In the case of an evacuation centre there are many stations set up across the hall with agencies assisting many different people at the same time, providing shelter, meals, counseling, animal welfare services and distributing goods.
"This creates a different noise distribution and connectivity requirements to support this function."
More items on the wish list
Ms Smith said the original refurbishment list was a stakeholders' starting point, to be considered for the grant application.
Consultation and investigations evolved and the scope was narrowed to meet the funding available, in light of detailed quotations for the work.
"Amendments have also been made to items not subject to grant requirements, to address emerging issues such as the need to reinforce the floor to allow for the weight ratings of the retractable seating, and penalties incurred on let contracts that were unable to be actioned due to the delay or materials and labor incurred as a result of the pandemic," Ms Smith said.
The original wish list included a mobile stage, extra lighting and sound equipment, a new bar facility, redressing of the timber floor and airconditioning, but Ms Smith said these have not been funded to date.
"However we will continue to seek funding to meet the entire list over time and address the needs of all users of the facility.
"In the allocation of funds able to attract grant funding, council has focused on the structural elements of the project to ensure that funds are spent in areas that will not need to be redone in future and incur a higher cost to complete due to reworks of the building.
"For example we did not know the insulation needed replacing in the roof cavity prior to the mold investigations on the acoustic panels, hence we have funded these works to ensure we are not putting up new acoustic treatments that will suffer the same mold issue, scaling back the actual sound equipment as we can obtain packages for conferences from external providers that are specific for the event being conducted and add the equipment at a later date."
Ms Smith said it has been an extremely challenging year delivering projects during COVID-19, particularly as a border town.
"Many of the suppliers were from across the border and unable to continue to deliver products or cross the border to carry out works. Transport and logistics were delayed and shortages or materials have been experienced, extended further by the strict lockdown in Victoria where many components are sourced for construction.
"To manage the project delivery under these strenuous circumstances has required many hours or rework and negations on behalf of council staff to keep the wheels turning, if much slower than we would all like."
She said the date that Memorial Hall will be available again for use by the community will be influenced by the outcome of the most recent grant application. If successful, the grant has to be expended by June 30, 2022.
Ms Smith is certainly hoping the hall will be back in use earlier than that, but is hesitant to put a date on anything at this time.
"All it takes is one glitch in the current fragile supply chain and it can delay us for weeks, with a flow-on reaction that is impossible to manage on time and within budget," she said. "We are still reworking the project plan to get a revised completion date for the new grant, if successful."
The current grant-funded works have a completion date of mid-2021 so she is hopeful that the hall can be re-opened in the second half of next year.
"Council staff and contractors are working hard to get the Memorial Hall back into community use as soon as possible, and we thank all those who have shown great patience and support for the project," Miss Smith said.