BOLD DESIGN: A concept drawing of the Cultural and Civic Space proposed for Gordon Street.
BOLD DESIGN: A concept drawing of the Cultural and Civic Space proposed for Gordon Street. Coffs Harbour City Council

Cheers for decision to fast track Cultural and Civic Space

A DECISION to accelerate plans for the new Cultural and Civic Space was met with cheers and applause from a packed council chambers on Thursday night.

The motion involves accelerating the project by committing $2 million for Schematic Designs and the preparation of a Development Application (DA). This $2million would be required in 2018/19 instead of the $500,000 currently allocated, with the additional $1.5million to be sourced from the T2S Reserve funds.

A building contractor is to be appointed early in the process with the understanding that they are to keep to an agreed cost.

Mayor Denise Knight was one of the councillors who spoke passionately in favour of 'getting on with the job'.

"We need to expedite this. It is our time... our time for culture and art to be in the city centre."

In a public address prior to the discussion Friends of the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery's president Heather McKinnon spoke in support of speeding up the process and stressed the need for a new library.

"Literacy rates are falling behind and Coffs schools are not meeting targets and there is a real problem with access to literature. It's important we fast track this as fast as humanly possible. That library is absolutely at breaking point," she said.

Councillors Keith Rhoades and Paul Amos spoke against the motion raising concerns that not enough consideration had been given to alternatives such as renovating council's current premises and committing to a lesser spend for a facility to house a library, art gallery and museum.

"I support a new library facility, art gallery and a museum but at the end of the day are we are leaving ourselves open for scrutiny. Have we followed due diligence and explored all options available to us? I don't believe so.

"We have had estimates that say 8 to 10 million to put an extra storey on this building (council chambers in Castle St) and then perhaps we could come up with something that would satisfy everybody for around the 40million mark."


The location of the new Cultural and Civic Space.
The location of the new Cultural and Civic Space in Gordon Street. Contributed

But the majority of fellow councillors were not in agreement, with Cr Knight responding:

"All I can say is really ? Are we really going to stall this again? In 50 years it is going to cost a hell of a lot more. This has been going on for long enough," Cr Knight asserted.

Councillor Sally Townley admitted it was a big spend but that council have followed due diligence throughout.

"This is supported by some of the most rigorous reports and briefings. The need for facilities to develop literacy and creative pursuits in our community is understood by everyone here.

"Yes this is a big scary project and there is no doubt about that. I know people are concerned about costs and relocation but the key message is about being brave. We all need to be brave and get behind it and I whole heartedly support the recommendation."

General manager Steve McGrath agreed that by bringing in a suitably qualified contractor at the earliest possible stage, the council could get them on board during the design process so they were across all requirements.

"They can bring forward early works such as demolition and ultimately the whole project will be finished far faster," Mr McGrath said.

"This is important as there is a risk that the costs of construction materials could rise during a lengthy build, which will affect the overall cost. Also, by having an agreed maximum price from the start, we get certainty there won't be any major cost blowout."

While the total cost of the project is forecast at $76million, it will be offset by the proposed sale of council assets and available reserve funds, resulting in a net cost of $46million.