A report to be considered by councillors next month will communicate just how long the Hepburn Shire community can expect to wait for the re-opening of The Rex.
When completed, the Hepburn Hub project at The Rex will be an important community building that will house council staff, the town's library, community cinema and a social enterprise cafe, but it has been subject to numerous setbacks in the past year.
Mayor Cr Licia Kokocinski said while there had been many problems and alleged mismanagement with the project in the past, the council had been working on its processes and officers would hand a report to council next month so they can reconsider the scope of the project.
"In the end the community will benefit from this important facility," she said.
"But it would have been preferable if the proper processes were followed in the first place."
While specifics about the cause of the further delays cannot be detailed until the report is finalised and handed to council, The Courier understands they are due to the challenges of the site as well as variations to the design and fit out of the building.
The detailed report will be handed to the council at its ordinary meeting on February 18, at which councillors will consider the revised scope of the project, the updated and increased costing to deliver the project and the estimated date of completion.
Cr Kokocinski said the council was aware of the "problems and shortcomings" that had plagued the project thus far and was therefore working on rectifying the problems which had been brought to light by working more closely together.
During recent months a significant amount of time has been invested in understanding the project's history, employing architects to revise the designs to ensure the long-term success of the facility and obtaining all of the permits and approvals to match.
The council, which is the owner/ builder of the project, has also made organisational changes including engaging a project manager with architectural and economic credentials to manage the project and report any changes back to council.
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Construction work at the site ceased in June 2018, after former Chief Executive Officer Aaron van Egmond left the position to take up a role at a Melbourne council.
At that time it was determined that a planning permit had not been applied for, though it was required due to additional expenditure pushing the project above the $1 million threshold for a planning permit exemption.
The requirement to lodge a change of use planning application for the facility had also not been fulfilled.
The following month council elected to conduct an independent audit - conducted by Crowe Horwath - into the project.
After receiving its draft report, council CEO Evan King notified the Victorian Local Government Inspectorate of the audit's findings.
The Inspectorate then began to conduct an investigation from the time when the council purchased The Rex building for $6.3 million in 2016 until the time the works were suspended. That investigation is ongoing.
A planning permit was issued for the project in December last year, at which time it was revealed the entire cost of the project had ballooned to cost in excess of $9.6 million. That figure was an additional $1.631 million more than was originally planned.
The continuing delays to the project have been frustrating to residents, most acutely to the Daylesford Community Cinema group, which is awaiting the opening of the hub to re-establish a permanent home for the cinema.
With the group out of The Rex for over two years now, President Gina Lyons told The Courier it had had a significant impact on the operations of the cinema.
This impact has been both financially and also on its volunteers.
"Whilst they contribute an awful lot to the operations of the cinema, they also gain a lot personally, such as friendships. Volunteering is a way for people new to town to meet people and gain new skills," Ms Lyons said.
She said the community as a whole had also been impacted, with those unable to travel not having viewed a film since the closure.
Ms Lyons said the group would continue to work with the council to ensure a cinema facility the whole town can be proud of is built.
"When it is finished it will be an impressive facility. While the closure has had a huge impact, we are hanging on as we know how important the cinema is to the community.
"We also know that the cinema and the whole Rex project will be transformational for the town."
The Local Government Inspectorate's Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf said the integrity agency for Victorian local government was still conducting the investigation into allegations related to Hepburn Shire Council.
"We expect to complete our investigation by mid-February and it is not appropriate to comment on specific issues until this investigation is complete," Mr Wolf said.
"The Inspectorate will follow its standard process to communicate the findings to the council and councillors and the community."
Cr Kokocinski said the council looked forward to the conclusion of the investigation and any recommendations handed down.
"We are looking forward to the delivery of the report to get the saga behind us as it is hanging over us like a storm cloud. We want to continue doing what we have to do," she said.
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