UPPER Lachlan Shire Council’s office buildings are “undeniably the worst community and civic centre premises in NSW”.
General manager John Bell held no punches at last Thursday’s meeting when arguing for a new facility.
Staff were practically sitting on top of each other, some were housed in a former toilet block and the community was forced to stand at meetings, he told councillors.
His blunt description convinced councillors to go ahead with a $2.2 million funding application to Regional Development Australia (RDA) for a new council chambers on Laggan Rd. Upper Lachlan will match the money from reserves, if successful.
Consultants have estimated a $5m cost and Goulburn architect Tim Lee has already drawn up plans. The former councilowned Crookwell saleyards, next to the Viewhaven Lodge frailaged facility, is the proposed site.
It will encompass a ‘Community, Civic and Renewable Energy Excellence Centre’, which Upper Lachlan Shire Mayor John Shaw says “will make it a clean, green building”.
It would also contribute to the region’s tourism dollar, with the proposed ‘renewable energy trail’ that will be part of the government’s South East Region of Renewable Energy Excellence Project.
The new complex will also encompass a ‘smart work centre’ which will allow small business employees to work in an office environment that is close to home, therefore removing the need for excess travel.
These offices would have the structure of a professional office, divided into various configurations, for instance single user booths, which could be used for private phone and video calls, and encompassing open plan areas and various meeting rooms.
“More and more people are choosing to work from home rather than having to commute to centres such as Canberra or Sydney,” Cr Shaw said.
Centres such as these have been effective in several overseas countries, and are gaining considerable interest across Australia.
In terms of offsetting the costs to match the RDA funding, Mr Shaw says that Council would consider charging a small rent to local businesses and industries, which would then create a two-fold benefit.
The council says its current facilities in Crookwell and Gunning are inadequate in size and architecture to meet existing and future requirements.
Furthermore, they did not take into account future extensions or meet current Workplace Health and Safety (WH&S) requirements.
At the Crookwell council chambers members of the public had to stand around the room, with some even forced to listen to meetings outside, a report stated.
The main office and customer service area was also “grossly inadequate”, with up to five staff members occupying office space that was only ever designed for one. Also, council’s various planners, managers and officers currently occupy space once used as a toilet block and garage/storage shed. These buildings are described as ‘ad-hoc’ and are located away from the main administration building.
Cr Shaw said under current council amalgamation obligations to ratepayers, once the new civic centre was constructed, the Gunning office would remain open.
He also told the Post that if the funding application was once again unsuccessful, there were no fall-back options.
The council has been trying unsuccessfully for the past six years for RDA funding.
The Central NSW Regional Organisation of Councils (CENTROC), the South East Regional Organisation of Councils (SEROC) and Regional Development Australia (RDA) were sympathetic to the problems when they visited the council facilities recently.