Neighbourhood House quits Saxon Street project
Council lodges planning application for new community hub
Friday, April 8, 2022
DEVELOPMENT of a new $22 million cultural and community hub in Saxon Street is going ahead despite a cornerstone tenant walking away from the project.
The Brunswick Neighbourhood House has opted out of the project because of unreconcilable differences with Moreland Council about its vision for the precinct.
After almost two years of negotiations with Moreland Council over its role in the redevelopment of the 33 Saxon Street site, currently known as Siteworks, the BNH has told the council ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to the offer of a new home in a 133-year-old building within the precinct.
Instead, it will remain spread over two properties in De Carle and Garden streets for the time being.
The decision leaves the council looking for a tenant for the heritage building at the heart of the precinct which is set to open in two years.
Vic Issell, chairman of a special sub-committee established to explore future accommodation options for the Brunswick Neighbourhood House, said issues with the council could not be resolved and the BNH had decided to pull out of the project.
“The overall proposal was considered significantly inadequate by the board at the end of last year,” he said.
The council is pressing on with the project, and this week released the first images of what the new precinct will look like.
The architectural illustrations show the scale of the transformation that will take place over the next two years.
The redevelopment is being designed by Kennedy Nolan Architects who are refining the council’s concept plan adopted in November and are developing a detailed design plan providing about 3500 square metres of floorspace.
It has taken the council more than a decade to reach this stage in the project after it bought the site alongside the Brunswick Baths in 2010.
The concept designs envisage demolition of most of a former Catholic school in Phoenix Street and of another building that currently houses the Blak Dot Gallery.
A new L-shaped five storey building would be constructed in the south-eastern corner of the site to provide space for galleries, workspaces, and a café.
Management of the precinct will be outsourced to a private operator.
Blak Dot will return to operate a new gallery on the site when work is completed by 2024.
According to the council, key elements of the redevelopment will include:
• Large public open space areas (over 2500 square metres) for outdoor events, community recreation and creative activities.
• A new creative and community-use facility that will house multipurpose community rooms, maternal and child health facilities, and space for the commercial end of the creative industries.
• Creative production spaces and a gallery exhibition space that will be available for artists and creative organisations at affordable rates.
• Space for a hospitality operator to run a small café. Improved connection and access between the site and Brunswick Baths.
Moreland Mayor Mark Riley said the redevelopment would maintain Brunswick’s reputation as a location of choice for artists.
“This redevelopment will create much-needed space and opportunity for artists, community members and creative industries in Brunswick,” he said.
“It will be a welcoming, socially inclusive space that celebrates Moreland’s diversity, creativity and distinct culture.”
More artist impressions of how the new Saxon Street will look. Source: Moreland City Council
But the project will go ahead without the Neighbourhood House after a disagreement about its role in the overall site could not be resolved.
The council had wanted the BNH to occupy the two-storey heritage building, known as Sherwood House.
This would have allowed BNH to move out of a council-owned property in Garden Street, which is no longer fit-for-purpose.
Some BNH activities would have continued at its other location in De Carle Street. But a sticking point over the BNH’s occasional childcare service could not be resolved.
The council wanted to move the childcare to the Brunswick Baths, but the Neighbourhood House wanted to run it out of the heritage building. This and other concerns led the BNH to formally withdraw from the project in December.
Mr Issell said some changes to the plans had only been revealed to the BNH “at the eleventh hour”.
“We felt it was not in the community’s best interest that the services we provide moved there [to Saxon Street].
“We regretted that because just as council has, we have spent many years, a lot of time, a lot of energy, trying to come up with a solution so we regretfully declined.
“It was not an easy decision after everything but the board felt we needed to go a different way.”
Mr Issell said the BNH remained committed to improving its facilities and would continue exploring alternatives to the Garden Street building.
Construction of the new community hub in Saxon Street is due to begin next year.
The cost of the project has already blown out from its original budget of about $14.8 million because of the impact of COVID-19 on the building industry.