The council will be doing the community a disservice if it doesn't fully explore construction of a Performing Arts Centre (PAC) for Goulburn now.
That's the opinion of Mayor Bob Kirk. His arguments on Tuesday helped sway most colleagues that the revised $18.5 million price tag was manageable. It's $6.3m more than the last estimate.
"There's a well established need and desire in the community. It's been 25 years since we had the Lilac Time Hall," he said.
"....Most other regional centres have a performing arts facility and Goulburn deserves one too. We are a growing and modern city."
The Centre, adaptively re-using the McDermott Centre in Auburn Street, was originally estimated to cost $8.2m, then $12.1m and earlier this year - $16m. But three tenders were "well above" $16m.
On Tuesday, following a 90-minute discussion, councillors decided seven votes to two to press ahead with the 400-seat PAC at an $18.5 million cost.
But firstly, management will negotiate with preferred tenderer, Zauner Constructions, to reduce their confidential price to $16,265,000. Council costs of $2.235m, including demolition of the McDermott Centre's rear section, electrical, excavation, archaeological work and more, will be added to this amount.
The meeting heard that Zauner had already achieved almost $2.1m in cost reductions through a value engineering process. But there were more possibilities, which were as yet un-priced. These include lowering or removing the fly tower, the orchestra pit, moving air-conditioning from the roof to the basement and consolidating back of house functions.
General manager Warwick Bennett has been authorised to undertake these negotiations in conjunction with a Create NSW industry specialist, the builder and architect.
Mr Bennett expected to bring back a report to councillors in July for a final decision on whether to proceed or abandon the project. The council has already spent $1.4m on preliminary work.
"This won't be done superficially. We still need a facility with broad functionality and appeal," operations director Matt O'Rourke said.
"The way forward is not to compromise that but to strike a balance on what we can pare back."
Mr O'Rourke said the council only had one shot at "achieving a wonderful facility for the community," but it also had to be affordable.
But Crs Sam Rowland and Margaret O'Neill argued the current cost was unaffordable and would result in an "unacceptable" debt level.
"One of the biggest issues I have is the sheer cost. There has been absolutely no consultation with the community," Cr Rowland said.
A revised $16m allocation was factored into the 2019/20 budget but Cr Rowland argued very few people read this. The first they knew of the increase came with the council report's release on Friday and his comments to The Goulburn Post, published on Monday.
Cr Rowland also questioned whether design changes would affect the facility's viability and original business case.
He and Cr O'Neill called for a public meeting to discuss the cost. But their amendment was lost seven votes to two.
"It's one project among many and it's a doubling of the debt," Cr Rowland said.
However, Cr Kirk and Mr Bennett strongly rebuffed claims the proposed $6.3m in loans was unmanageable.
Mr Bennett said he wouldn't recommend proceeding if it wasn't affordable. Overall debt would peak at $42.7m in 2020/21 (currently $21.8m) but would reduce by $2.5m a year thereafter, except in 2022/23 when a loan was proposed for the new community centre.
"Five years ago when I started we had $90m in investments. The following February I put forward a very ambitious capital works program...We achieved all of that and we still have $90m in the bank," he said.
"I won't promote a new PAC (and other projects) unless we have total confidence in and control over our finances."
Cr Kirk pointed out there would be no overall change in net debt. The council's debt service ratio would peak at 8 per cent in 2021/2, well below the State's 15pc industry benchmark, after all loans were considered.
"I think our current proposed debt is very manageable and I say that as a person with a background in lending," the former Commonwealth Bank manager said.
"...So the issue is what price will scare us off?...I don't think the cost of a PAC will become any cheaper and if we don't do it now, I suggest it will never be done...I say it can be delivered while still maintaining all of our services and doing all of our projects and capital works."
Cr Alfie Walker agreed.
"I believe the time is now to back our team and produce a PAC that we can all be proud of...and that will be a great cultural asset and add beauty to our city," he said.
The council proposes to tap into low-interest (2.5 to 3.5pc) State Government loans for the $6.3m. It is also considering transferring money from the water or sewer funds to the general fund at a 2pc interest rate. Corporate and community services director Brendan Hollands said in this arrangement the council would effectively become "the banker." This would have to be approved by the State.
The overall project would be funded from:
- General fund revenue -$1m;
- Grants - $7.5m;
- Lilac Time Reserve fund - $1,252,081;
- Multi-purpose venue reserve - $488,123;
- Section 94A reserve - $459,796;
- Loans - $6.3m;
- Land sales - $1.5m.
Mr Hollands said there would be a "neutral impact" on the general fund because the council had received an extra $1m in a federal Roads to Recovery grant.
Mr O'Rourke told the meeting that Create NSW, which had granted $4.5m for the PAC, was "getting rather anxious" about the money's expenditure.
"They want it resolved within the next few months but are giving us latitude because they understand our situation - that the market is coming back and saying this is now more expensive," he said.
Similarly, the $1m National Stronger Regions money, granted three years ago, couldn't be pushed out much further.
Mr Bennett told The Post that neither grant carried set timelines.
The council is also selling off "surplus" land and buildings, proceeds from which the GM says can be used on the PAC and other projects such as the aquatic centre redevelopment.
Councillors heard from four speakers during open forum, before their decision.
Former PAC Working Party member Chris Gordon, who has signalled his intention to run for Council next year, opposed a substantial project scope change.
"I say don't give us a dud facility from the start," he said.
"The reason I was won over by this (design) was it answered all my questions."
These included the stage size and provision of a fly tower and hydraulic orchestra pit. The latter had three levels of operation, with the second providing additional seating and the third - more stage area.
Mr Gordon said professional shows were passing Goulburn by because the city didn't have a large enough venue
He told councillors it was valid to question the increased price but cited other regional performing arts venues that cost more. Port Macquarie's was $60m and Wangaratta's - $30m.
"Are there people out there saying the pool (upgrade) or the wastewater treatment plant and other projects are too much or are we just saying we don't value the performing arts?" he asked.
"There are those who say the community doesn't want it. Well, I'm a member of the community and I do want it."
But Tempe Hornibrook said it was no surprise when tender prices came in "way above estimates."
"I believe you owe it to ratepayers to give them a say on this increasing cost," she said.
"Have you realised it will cost more than Lansdowne Bridge, which will be used every day? It is not too late to re-think?"
Ms Hornibrook said it was a "travesty" to add on to the 1887 EC Manfred-designed McDermott Centre. She speculated the additions would undermine structural integrity and destroy its appearance. The "lack of parking" and "narrow" rear lane-way for trucks and vans were also among her concerns.
Jacki Waugh urged councillors to "go back to the drawing board" and choose another location.
"I do want a performing arts centre but in the right spot and done in the right way," she said.
Auburn Street business owner Kim Gann also opposed "the rising cost" and questioned where it would end. She too called for a location with more parking.
"I think the build is possibly being sacrificed to come in at the $18.5m price and it may detract from the end result. I'm concerned that we don't end up with something the community doesn't want," she said.
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