The estimated cost of Wattle Range Council’s proposed new office building has increased by almost 70 per cent from its original targeted price and is set to become a highly political issue with local government elections due later this year.
With an original target of $5.5m, a report presented to council by chief executive Ben Gower on Tuesday night advised council that the cost of the new administration office was now estimated at $9.2m.
The report prompted Council to decide on Tuesday night to progress the project by authorising architects of the building, Chapman Herbert, to proceed to the detailed documentation phase which would provide sufficient information for the project to go to tender among builders.
This follows the project being revised from an initial estimate of $11.4m, which was revealed publicly for the first time on Tuesday night, with the new estimate being achieved through a reduction in the size of the building by about 10 per cent to just under 1600 square metres, while some architectural elements of the build were also removed.
Despite this, no money has been allocated for the project in the current draft 2022/23 council budget, which is out for public consultation now.
With council elections to be held in November, the project’s future will be in the hands of a newly elected council.
“Given that Local Government elections will be held later this year, any decision to tender for and award a contract to build the Council Service Centre will need to be made by the new Council in 2023,” said the report from Mr Gower.
Mayor Des Noll has defended the cost of the proposed new administration building telling The South Eastern Times that a new office is required.
“As a community, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the staff that serve us have a workplace facility that is safe and fit for purpose,” Mr Noll said.
“Currently this situation does not exist.
“A 90-year-old schoolhouse built in the 1930’s does not provide this.
“The current Council office is not fit for purpose.
“Employees are now spread over three separate and worn-out offices within our community – this is unproductive and inefficient.
“It is no longer acceptable to expect professional employees to be asked to work in such conditions.”
Mr Noll said the timing to build the new council office was ideal.
“There has never been a better time to build them a fit for purpose service administration centre,” Mr Noll said.
“Our Council is in a sound financial position to deliver this project.
“Carrying very little debt, moderate cash reserves and the ability to borrow money at incredibly competitive rates.
“The project can be financed over a long term at low interest rates with a minimal impact on your council rates.
“Twenty-five years after amalgamation, it is now time for Wattle Range Council to have a functional, safe, and fit for purpose service centre so that staff that we employ can serve the entire community to the best of their ability.”
Mr Noll said the $9.2m estimated cost for the new council office may change.
“It is important to understand that Council is currently at the detailed design and development approval stage and it should be noted that the financial figures put to council are estimates,” Mr Noll said.
“The actual cost to build the council service centre will not be known until council determines to run a competitive tender process.”
Mr Noll said that members of the public are invited to tour the current council office.
“I invite those community members who may wish to visit the current administration office on George Street for a tour of the site to contact the chief executive officer,” he said.
According to the report tabled at council’s meeting on Tuesday night from chief executive Ben Gower, council has 66 administrative staff who are currently based in three locations which are planned to be amalgamated into the proposed new building.
The current offices include the main office at Millicent’s George Street near the round-about, offices within the former Elec-Air building on Ridge Terrace, and council’s engineering office on Davenport Street.
“Building rules specify that the current principal office can accommodate a maximum of 25 staff; it has significant structural and maintenance issues; it has limited expansion options; and is no longer fit for purpose,” said Mr Gower’s report.
The proposed site for the planned new building is on parklands off North Terrace which were previously used by the former Millicent Netball Association and, while its courts have been removed, the association’s clubrooms remain but would be demolished to make way for the new council building if it proceeds.