I agree, there are more important things in the world than a derelict, cheaply-designed big boxy mass of bricks and a small brick veneer regional library on a 1.5 hectare site in the centre of a once great Victorian city, but to the future of my city – there isn’t.
The tick of another year has turned, and so should the estimation of ourselves and our city.
Promises of 1000 new Grade A jobs and 1 billion dollars economic impact is something that has made our heads spin. It will fundamentally change our CBD for the better.
And, at a glance, the gable-ended South façade and wispy, dream-like images by Melbourne-based John Wardle Architects imagining Ballarat’s Gov Hub are lovely impressions.
But we all know that it could be better.
The corner of Mair and Armstrong Streets is the best place for our new 6000m2, fit-for-purpose public library.
It always has been.
It would encourage our lively Armstrong Street to be walked by young and old.
It would free up the Haymarket roundabout site for a large Grade A office building, effectively drawing activity across from South to North, simultaneously growing our CBD towards the Station, and increasing our State’s land value.
Let’s critique the Stage 1 works that are nearly completed.
If they will be.
Cheap carpark aside – it was a real win to see the first major works on the Civic Hall Site a new public landscape – the ‘Ballarat Civic Plaza’, not another shop or private office.
This was promised to be completed in August 2016, then August 2017 (weather permitting) and now – did it rain much?
The nearly-complete landscape is not what was agreed in Council chamber December 2015, nor originally presented to the State Government Architect, nor what received (did it skip?) planning approval.
It is not what is still drawn today on the on-site billboards. It’s not even the right size.
The incomplete Ballarat Civic Plaza is an expanse of asphalt, little to no shade, precast concrete and stone ledges, a handful of small dying trees, and some quite pretty garden beds.
It has a variety of shapes, patterns and few colours, that don’t seem to mean much but “quickly let's just fill it in and say it’s done”.
But it’s not.
There was a lovely idea of a chess board – it’s on the West side, where it is hot and exposed, just in front of the windowless kitchen annex, which still blocks the hall from the outside.
There’s not even a walkway to the bus stop.
It is a decorated driveway.
Could have ’would have been’
The design concept that was unanimously agreed in the Council chamber would have sported a on-site water tank for hot summers under the site of the skatepark, maintained most of the shade-giving mature trees and the soil would have been properly decontaminated.
There would have been new plans for the skate park on site.
Our Civic space for political gatherings, markets or everyday picnics could have accommodated 2, 30, 300, 1000 people, easily.
Ample bike parking would have been provided and, timber seats.
There would have been no asphalt and it would have easily been built by Summer 2016 – in time for the Mayoral elections.
* Ammon Beyerle is a Ballarat architect and urban designer who directed the Civic Hall Site - Participatory Community Design Process from November 2014 - February 2016.