ARADALE Asylum will be re-opened as soon as this weekend after it was closed down at the start of August due to concerns about lead levels in the paint.
Melbourne Polytechnic had conducted an assessment which revealed the lead levels and made the decision to close the historical facility down to tour operators immediately.
Melbourne Polytechnic will now allow the limited reopening of the buildings for guided tours following the commissioning of an additional report by leading respiratory expert, Dr Jonathan Burdon AM.
Melbourne Polytechnic chief Frances Coppolillo said that the Institute's primary responsibility was ensuring the health and safety of people visiting the facilities it manages.
"Earlier this month, Melbourne Polytechnic took steps to close the historic buildings of the former Aradale Mental Hospital to public tours following the identification of lead contamination in and around the heritage buildings," Ms Coppolillo said.
"Given the nature of the initial findings, this was an essential first step while further work could be completed to determine the scale of the remediation works required and to build our understanding of whether the facilities might be reopened, subject to the introduction of additional protocols.
"Although work continues to determine the scale and cost of remediation works, we have now received expert advice that will enable the partial reopening of the buildings, subject to the introduction of additional protocols to protect the health of tour operators and their guests."
In order for tours to resume, operators will have to agree to the following new health and safety protocols:
- Individual tour guides will be limited to conducting no more than one tour of the facility each week;
- the consumption of food or drink within the buildings will not be permitted;
- additional hand washing procedures must be introduced at the end of tours for both guides and guests;
- guides will undergo regular annual blood tests to ensure they are not impacted by lead toxicity; and
- pregnant women or people already experiencing symptoms common to lead toxicity will not be able to conduct tours.
As with the initial investigation, the new report by Dr Jonathan Burdom AM reinforces that the buildings continue to present a very low risk to casual visitors, including adults and children attending tours as guests.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid visiting the historic buildings unnecessarily.
Work is now underway to put new agreements in place.
"The former Aradale Mental Hospital holds an important part in the history of the Ararat community," Ms Coppolillo said.
"Having completed these additional investigations, we are pleased to be able to enable tours to recommence following the introduction of additional safety measures.
"Melbourne Polytechnic has reached out to both the commercial tour operator and the local Friends of J Ward in relation to the new agreements.
"Subject to their acceptance of the new terms, tours will be able to recommence as early as this weekend."
The new protocols will remain in place until remediation works at the site can be completed.
Melbourne Polytechnic is still working with stakeholders to determine the nature and scale of these works and was not yet able to provide a timeline for their completion.
Member for Ripon Louise Staley has been actively campaigning to have the facility re-opened, and recently emailed petitions to Ararat and district residents calling on the state government to have Aradale re-opened.
Ms Staley said she welcomed the news Aradale would re-open.
"I welcome the decision by Melbourne Polytechnic to listen to reason and allow tours to resume at Aradale," she said.
"The resumption of tours is a brilliant outcome for the people of Ararat and for the operators; Friends of J-Ward and Eerie Tours.
"These fine groups can now get back to doing what they love - giving tourists a good time."
Motel owners and other businesses reliant on the tourist economy felt the impacts of the closure immediately.
"Reopening Aradale will bring a huge sense of relief to the entire Ararat community, who have been very vocal in supporting one of our major tourism draw cards," Ms Staley said.
Ms Staley said she took several actions to get the situation resolved.
"In Parliament, I raised the closure of the tours of Aradale, and I talked about the importance that the Aradale tours provide to our economy. These tours regularly fill local restaurants and motels.
"I've been with (director of Eerie Tours) Nathaniel Buchanan to a meeting at Melbourne Polytechnic and put the case to them.
"We sent out the letters to everybody and got some of the petitions back. A lot of people have rung us and said thank you.
"I asked a question of the minister last week about what action she;s taken. I need her to take some responsibility.
"We did everything we could to think of to help this, because it was a bad decision and it needed to be reversed quickly.
"I am thankful that in the end, common sense won.
"Everybody in Ararat should feel incredibly proud of being part of the Save Aradale campaign, and we are a community that refuses to be pushed around or neglected.
"I'm just delighted."
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