The decision by the City of Ballarat to award its $2.5 m library redevelopment to a Sydney architectural firm has sparked a spirited response from city's architects and commercial representatives, who have argued a local contender would have been better suited.
Sydney's Studio Hollenstein has been chosen to transform the City of Ballarat Library into a 'Library of the Future' in a project jointly funded by the City of Ballarat and the state government's Living Libraries Infrastructure Program.
The City of Ballarat will contribute $1.9 million to the project and the state government $500,000.
In a release, City of Ballarat said 'Studio Hollenstein will work with several local contractors to transform the current Creswick Road library site and make it a showpiece building for the region.'
Why on earth are we outsourcing major design projects to Sydney instead of capitalising on the strengths of Ballarat businesses?Architect Mick Moloney
However several respected Ballarat-based architectural practices have questioned why such an integral part of the city's character and a major public utility is not being redesigned locally.
Mick Moloney of Moloney Architects said in direct contrast to its own 'Be kind to local businesses' campaign (www.bekindballarat.com.au), 'the City of Ballarat has just awarded the design of the Ballarat Library of the Future Project to a Sydney-based architecture firm.'
"Ballarat has a thriving design culture, including many award-winning architectural practices that have the capacity, experience and local knowledge to deliver a high-quality design for our library," Mr Moloney said.
"In the middle of a financial crisis, why on earth are we outsourcing major design projects to Sydney instead of capitalising on the strengths of Ballarat businesses and supporting local jobs?"
His views were supported by Alan Morton, director of Morton Dunn Architects, who also congratulated Hollenstein while noting 'they now join a long list of Ballarat community projects that have been awarded to consultants from remote locations.'
"The most recent list includes: Bakery Hill Redevelopment, Ballarat Sports Centre Stage 2, Mars Stadium Gate 1, Victoria Park Sports Pavilion, Sporting Grounds Change Rooms, Ballarat Water Hub Feasibility and the Sebastopol Library redevelopment," Mr Morton said.
"Recently, the Small Business Ombudsman encouraged communities to grow small business - which is "fundamental to community growth" and further emphasised that opening up the world of government contracts to local small business is important to economic growth - which is so critical right now.
"The creative/small business sector, which includes a number of young, emerging designers, runs rich and deep in Ballarat and contributes to our community in so many ways. Can we encourage our city leaders to mine this local wealth of talent, to build a more confident, energised and Creative Ballarat?"
Nathan Porter of Porter Architects entered a joint submission with Melbourne firm and library specialists Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (FJMT) which was one of the three shortlisted.
He says the Ballarat Library project was missed chance for the City of Ballarat.
"I believe it was a great opportunity for council to give (work to) a renowned world-class architect, FJMT, whilst engaging the skills of a young Ballarat professional practice in Porter Architects," Mr Porter said.
"It was a good fit, as Porter Architects could be the eyes and ears of the project in Ballarat working coherently with the Melbourne FJMT office.
"We produced a sketch design package which included a lot of local site history and research, site analysis, master planning, proposed plans, 3D views, precedent studies, BCA compliance review, fee proposal; we presented our proposal to council via a video conference call, due to covid.
"The (winning tender) announcement was made via council website, which is where we found out that we weren't successful. We are still waiting on council feedback or a courtesy phone call."
In a statement, the City of Ballarat responded to questions about the tender process, saying the successful firm was awarded the contract 'following a thorough and transparent selection process under Council's new Procurement Policy.'
I believe it was a great opportunity for council to give (work to) a renowned world-class architect, FJMT, whilst engaging the skills of a young Ballarat professional practice in Porter ArchitectsNathan Porter, architect
"This contract was awarded after a two-stage process: the first was an Expression of Interest which received 26 submissions. This was shortlisted to three firms who were invited to tender.
"Under the Act, Councils must conduct a fair and equitable selection process and cannot place restrictions on who can apply. The three finalists were evaluated on six criteria including Local Content, which carries a maximum weighting of 10 percent.
"Local Content is based on the locality of the contractor and the economic benefit that the submitter may bring to the region. Other criteria were:
- Level of understanding of site, responsiveness to the brief
- Resolution of compliance issues addressed in early report of Building Surveyor
- Innovation and creativity
- Timelines for completion of design development and documentation
"The successful company will be using several local contractors, creating jobs for local workers during the construction phase."
Commerce Ballarat's Jodie Gillett said it was disappointing to see two City of Ballarat contracts leave the city in the past few weeks.
"The tender process for the recruitment of the new Directors was not even offered to a Ballarat company. We know the company that has won the contract for the library are well respected in their field but so are many of our local architects.
"We must immediately look at the processes and the weight given to the investment staying local to ensure that we can retain as many contracts as possible into the future."
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