Civic Hall design process dead

FRUSTRATION: After almost two years, the long process of planning a future for the key CBD block seems to have stalled.
FRUSTRATION: After almost two years, the long process of planning a future for the key CBD block seems to have stalled.

After cutting short the Civic Hall participatory design process, the City of Ballarat has dismissed the architecture firm in charge of the project and taken the planning in-house. 

This has left the future of the site around the hall up in the air again almost two years after the community design idea was floated. 

Mayor Des Hudson said the decision, announced Thursday, came because they had to go back and work out which of the final designs would actually be possible financially. 

“Where we’re at is really about the economics, is looking at how can whatever is going to be the functionality of the space actually be used so it’s sustainable and it’s not going to be burden on ratepayers going forward,” he said. 

“They’re two very different stages. Here Studio was very much about the community participation process, now we’re about the economics and the business plan. That’s not the skill set of Here Studio. That’s now the skill we need (from) council officers, economics of council to have a look at that.” 

The five final designs include stretching the library out to Mair Street, re-opening the hall itself and building new offices on the block. 

The hall itself will stay, following a December decision from council. 

But the Victorian government architect reported after a January meeting few of the current designs are viable.

“We also question the viability of some aspects of the five options presented – for example, there are doubts about the success of a ribbon library, and the role of residential use on the site is unclear,” said Jill Garner in the report. 

Ms Garner also said the stages in the process were confused. 

Cr Hudson defended the process, saying it needed to be thorough. 

“I don’t think the ratepayers would necessarily want us to deliver something that would cost in the order of a million dollars a year, that’s why we need to make sure there’s a good business case around whatever that model’s going to be,” he said. 

“That’s what we’ve asked officers to do over the next couple of months, so that hopefully when we do come back with a concept to the community we think this is the best model going forward and for these reasons.”  

The initial plan in 2014 called for community-led design ideas to be whittled down from 300 to three at which point councillors would pick one. 

Here Studio had hoped to have this done by November 2015. 

In a statement on Thursday director Ammon Beyerle thanked the council for hiring Here Studio for the job and underlined why it was important. 

“The Civic Hall site holds enormous potential in terms of its social-cultural and economic value,” he said.