THE McDonald Centre will be thrown open to the public this weekend to allow interested individuals and community groups to look through the facility with a view to its future use.
Ararat Rural City Council called for public submissions and ideas for the future use of the McDonald Centre at its June meeting and received 16 submissions, while The Ararat Advertiser received more than 50 comments on its Facebook page calling for the building to be turned into everything from a soup kitchen, to a roller skating rink, to a home for the arts.
The McDonald Centre hall has been unused for several years due to issues surrounding essential services including fire services, disability access issues and a general tiredness of its fittings.
Director of council services Neil Manning reported to Council at the July meeting that the McDonald Centre was built in the 1950s when there were very different standards, and while it is in sound physical condition, the design does not allow for appropriate access to all floor levels that is required of a Council and community facility.
The male toilets are in the basement and are only accessible by stairs. To modify the building to allow access to all levels would require the installation of several lifts and major structural changes to accommodate them. According to Mr Manning this would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, as Council is committed to appropriate disability access to public buildings, through its Disability Access and Inclusion Plan 2006, which is currently under review.
"Council officers have been investigating a compromise solution for the McDonald Centre that is more affordable," Mr Manning said.
"The compromise includes the permanent shutting off of the upstairs and basement sections, where access cannot be provided other than by stairs, and improving the main hall floor level. Improvements to the main hall floor level would include providing a disabled access ramp to the rear or side and upgrading the existing toilets to disabled access and unisex standards. Fire services must be improved and would include modification to exits and installation of hose reels.
"The limited toilet area available on the hall floor level would limit the number of persons to the order of 50. This limitation would mean that Council could not allow the use of the McDonald Centre building for its traditional uses of weddings, 21sts, parties, formal dances and general community events. The building may, however, be suitable for smaller events or for clubs and community groups."
Mr Manning said a major issue is whether there is sufficient water pressure and flow available to the property to meet
current standards for fire safety. In the past this has been an issue with other Council buildings in the vicinity and the cost for the provision of water of sufficient pressure has exceeded $100,000 in connection costs.
He said Council has commissioned a water pressure and flow test, but if the tests show an inadequate pressure or flow it
may not be viable, due to cost, to update the McDonald Centre.
The 16 submissions received from Council included calls for the building to be used for: dancing and rock and roll dancing, roller skating, table tennis, a home for Ararat Musical Comedy Society meetings and rehearsal shared with Ararat City Band and Ararat Theatre Company, return to its past uses as a venue for 21sts, parties and wedding receptions, indoor child friendly activity centre similar to Fun Bugs, mini golf, teenage activities and meeting places, a flexible learning venue, a rehearsal venue for the Ararat City Band and learning groups with a possible recording space, a space for larger workshops for the Ararat Neighbourhood House, meeting spaces, and conversion to a double story office space.
Cr Gwenda Allgood praised council for undertaking a successful community engagement exercise by calling for public submissions.
"It's just incredible with the fact that we've been able to get the community involved in something - usually they stand back and say 'I don't want to know about that', but some of the comments made are good ideas," she said.
"I think we've done everything right this time.. and I think we've done an excellent job.
"It's been a great exercise and one maybe we could keep doing because it was a really good outcome."
The McDonald Centre will be open to the public this Saturday, August 30, from 9am to 12 noon.