ARARAT - Momentum is building towards the recommencement of construction on the stalled Ararat Prison expansion project.
Corrections Minister Andrew McIntosh last week visited the site, confirming construction work at the Hopkins Correctional Centre, formerly Ararat Prison would resume in late January or early February.
Mr McIntosh had the chance to view preliminary site works which have been taking place to prepare for the restart.
"The resumption of construction here at Ararat will mark a welcome turnaround in this project's fortunes, especially for the people and businesses of Ararat," Mr McIntosh said.
"I again thank the Ararat community for the patience shown during this extremely difficult time.
"The return of construction will deliver substantial investment back into the Ararat community, supporting jobs and local businesses over the next two years while the expansion is completed.
"The 350 bed expansion project will provide additional capacity in Victoria's prison system, and will continue to support jobs and local investment in Ararat long after construction is complete."
Previous contractors St Hilliers, part of the Aegis consortium, went into liquidation in May.
Around 400 people were forced out of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to sub contractors from both Ararat and further afield.
The State Government negotiated a deal which has seen the Commonwealth and Bendigo banks not only take over the project but guarantee its completion.
"What we have now is a clear understanding from the banks, they are guaranteeing the delivery of this project, it is for them to deliver on the project and we are very pleased that we have two of Australia's biggest banks actually guaranteeing the delivery of this project," Mr McIntosh said.
In October the banks appointed Brookfield Multiplex to commence immediate remediation works following the sudden halt to works in April.
Brookfield Multiplex has been responsible for returning the site to a position where it is safe to work on.
Mr McIntosh described the arrangement as a tremendous outcome.
"What I have observed today has lead me to be very pleased with the progress of this project, it's back online and most importantly the remedial works are being undertaken to ensure full construction is up and running about mid January," he said.
"The most important thing about this is that if you leave a site exposed to the weather as with what happened under the former regime, then there is significant damage.
"There are a lot of areas that have been exposed to the weather, indeed I have just seen a site that has been pretty badly damaged just by Corellas attacking the insulation in the place.
"It is a long process, an involved process, but a necessary process."
Contractors on site have completed fence repairs, maintenance, concreting and occupational health and safety works to ensure the site is compliant and suitable for full construction work to recommence.
Mr McIntosh wouldn't reveal the cost to taxpayers of the project due to the delay but said the fact it was back on track was most important.
"It started life as a full public-private partnership, taxpayers are paying for the delivery of a project and the ongoing maintenance of the project.
"I'm very pleased with the progress of what I have seen today and I certainly look forward to full construction commencing.
Mr McIntosh has now made several visits to the site and town talking to the community about the impact the delay of the project has had on business and the individual.
"This has had a significant impact on Ararat, you take these construction jobs out of a town, it will have a significant impact on a community," he said.
Mr McIntosh re-iterated the potential for increased employment opportunities that will come from the recommencement of the project.
"Not only is it currently the largest employer in the town of Ararat, but it will be double the size of that and will continue to be the largest employer in the town of Ararat," he said.
During his visit Mr McIntosh also met with the Ararat Prison Community Advisory Group and with Ararat Rural City Council, to discuss the future of the project and the important role the prison plays in the Ararat community.
"The Coalition Government has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to this project, and with the support of Ararat Rural City Council, the Community Advisory Group and the local community we will deliver the additional prison beds Victoria needs," he said.
Ararat Rural City Mayor Cr Ian Wilson said the meeting provided all concerned with an update on the project.
"We have had some favourable news on top of the very positive announcement of the restart," he said.
"There will be a significant increase in the amount of work taking place at the site over the next 12 months with up to 600 people at any one time at the site.
"Council is keen to work with the Department of Justice and Community Advisory Group to address any issues or concerns they or the community have over the next 12 months."
Mr McIntosh said the Ararat Prison expansion project is now due to be completed in late 2014 as part of the State Government's major prison expansion program, which is essential to fixing the capacity issues in the prison system.
"My hope is to get a prison built by November 2014, that will have 700 beds," he said.
"The State Government is investing the money and resources to deliver a modern, secure and adaptable corrections system to improve community safety and reduce recidivism."
Mr McIntosh said 80 to 90 per cent of validated sub-contractor claims have so far been paid.