Rathmines Community Hall to remain closed until 2019 as Lake Macquarie City Council removes asbestos and creates performing arts centre

THE bad news is more asbestos has been found in Rathmines Community Hall and the facility is likely to remain closed until 2019.

The good news is the heritage-listed building will undergo repairs, an upgrade and redesign valued at more than $1 million  to transform it into a proper performing arts centre.

Brent Wellham of Lake Macquarie City Council’s community assets delivery team reported the mixed news at a community meeting in the town.

“We’re looking at developing a facility on the western side of the lake that can be a real performing arts centre and a theatrical space,” Mr Wellham said.

“Something similar to Warners Bay Performing Arts Centre.

“We want to have a facility on this western side of the lake where the community can put on shows, and schools can put on theatre, and things like that.”

The hall has been closed since October 2015.

Community frustration has grown because of what locals perceive to be a lack of council activity at the site.

Mr Wellham said solving the asbestos problem had been challenging.

“The asbestos contractors started in September and we’ve started removing asbestos, but unfortunately we’ve found a lot of it in there,” he said.

Walls that were initially “cleared” were then discovered to contain asbestos once the ceiling started to be pulled down, he said.

Asbestos was also discovered underneath the sub-floor.

While the contractors have been removing the asbestos, council has called a design and construction tender for a heritage specialist architect to redesign the hall, Mr Wellham said.

Part of the redesign would see the former caretaker’s cottage transformed into a backstage area, for the storage of props, and new toilets.

The design and development process was expected to take place in mid-2018, Mr Wellham said.

The redevelopment of the hall will require council and state government approval.

“At the end of the day it’s going to be well over $1 million worth of work there. Realistically, we’d like to get some state government money to assist us so that all of my money doesn’t go there [into the hall] and I can build some other things for you,” Mr Wellham told the meeting.

Council had identified a grant application which it hoped would help to cover the cost of the works, he said.

If everything went to plan, an architect and construction company would be engaged in the New Year, with construction to start by June 2018, he said.

Locals at the meeting pushed Mr Wellham to tell them when the hall would reopen to the community.

“I want to be realistic and say early 2019,” he said.