Start on a heritage building and one can open up a can of worms.
Such is the case with one of Goulburn's oldest buildings, Saint Clair in Sloane Street. The 1840s villa is being restored to once again house the Goulburn and District Historical and Genealogical Society's vast collection.
But plans for an extensive conservation program have hit a snag. Asbestos, mould in downstairs rooms, rising damp, and making staircases compliant with modern day accessibility standards are all throwing up challenges.
Councillors at their most recent meeting agreed to split off some of the more straightforward work into a separate tender in order to progress the project. Time is ticking on several grants and talks are still underway with the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) about accessibility issues.
The council's business manager of marketing, events and culture, Sarah Ruberto said these grants, including $200,000 from the State Government, could be lost if the work didn't move ahead.
"It is critical that Council proceeds with the priority list of conservation works, while solutions to some of the more complex issues related to access are addressed," she reported.
Those priorities included a new roof, guttering and down pipes. There are only down pipes in the entire building, thereby contributing to rising damp. Mrs Ruberto said addressing the damp would solve many of the structure's problems.
Sub-floor ventilation for the villa and rear coach house is also a high priority, given the damp and mould growth. An environmental report has been commissioned to assess the hygiene conditions. This will shed light on risks for construction workers but also suggest removal strategies.
Likewise, a Hazardous Materials Assessment (HAZMAT) has revealed asbestos throughout the villa coach house walls, floors, sub-floors, meter borads, fireplaces and joinery.
"There's asbestos in areas we didn't expect," Mrs Ruberto told The Post during a building tour.
"We just won't know the final cost of work at this stage as a result."
Addressing the mould and asbestos will affect the overall budget, which stands at just over $1 million. Mrs Ruberto said they were not factored into the original budget.
Demolishing and reconstructing public amenities and conserving the coach house, which will house a research centre, archive and exhibition space, are also key priorities. Mrs Ruberto said the coach house would be opened first, giving the Society some form of onsite home. In addition, an access ramp at the front and repairs throughout are needed. Late last year, local firm Sam White Constructions undertook fascia repairs
But a central staircase and two smaller ones are causing bigger headaches.
Mrs Ruberto said the council's initial development application proposed a different formation for the central stairs but OEH would not approve this, arguing the structure was part of the original building.
"It's in a bad state of repair and they're not compliant with disability access. They will be closed off and not used," she said.
The council and heritage architect considered several alternatives, including a lift, but these were judged "cost prohibitive."
Likewise, a small staircase into the old research room may be closed off because it can't meet disability access standards. Overall, access to four upstairs rooms may be affected.
Mrs Ruberto said the council and architect were working with OEH on a possible compromise.
"The worst case scenario is to close the rooms off but we don't want to lose access to these rooms because we've already lost access downstairs," she said.
She said the issues "created significant limitations for the building's future use, and until resolved, hindered the tender process."
A two-stage tender process will apply, with expressions of interest to be called by the end of July. Candidates will then be shortlisted, with the heritage consultant's input.
"The intention is to have the tender process finalised and a contractor engaged by December, 2019," Mrs Ruberto reported.
"During this time we will address the mould and asbestos issues via separate contracts. By undertaking this work separately and outside the tender price it reduces the risk and uncertainty for potential tenderers, allowing a more definitive price."
The heritage consultant, specialist tradespeople and an archaeologist will be engaged during construction on the State Heritage listed building, in line with OEH approval conditions issued in April.
OEH has granted $97,000 towards the total project. Mrs Ruberto said the council would likely need to allocate more money in future budgets, given the issues discovered.
"The nature of heritage buildings is that you don't know what you're up against until you start," she said.
"...(But) it's an exciting project and I'm excited for the day when the Society is back in here and operating. It's one of Goulburn's oldest homes and it's a shame not to have it open."
Meantime, the council has secured a $20,000 State Heritage grant from OEH, which it will co-fund, for an interpretation plan for Saint Clair and its archives.
Conservation architect, Peter Freeman will also launch his book about the villa's history at the end of August. Mr Freeman resigned as heritage architect on the project earlier this year. David Hobbes of Canberra-based Phillip Leeson Architects has taken over.
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