Ready to get building

Fremantle Herald

25th February 2019.

This week's signing of the contract with Pindan Constructions to build the new civic centre and library in Kings Square was a historic moment for the City of Fremantle.

As an integral part of the broader Kings Square renewal project, the new civic building will be an amazing community asset we can all be proud of.

Without the city's commitment to invest in a new civic building, the revitalisation of central Fremantle we are currently witnessing-new offices, retail spaces and 1500 state government employees relocating to town-simply would not be happening.

Similar to other Kerry Hill designed buildings, like the City of Perth library and the State Theatre Centre, the new civic centre will be a light, bright and airy space.

Outdated

It will have a new, modern public library-double the size of the old one-with a huge range of books, computers, a state-of the- art history centre, a library lounge and outdoor courtyards. It will even have gaming consoles and a slide.

The civic centre will also have community meeting rooms, fully-accessible public toilets and change facilities, a modern information and customer service centre, and gallery and exhibition spaces integrated with the Town Hall.

It will also be one of the most energy-efficient buildings of its size in Australia.

It's taken years of community engagement, investigations, reports, consultations, debates and deliberations to arrive at the point where we could hit the 'go' button on one of the most significant projects in the city's history.

The Fremantle Council recognised back in 2003-long before I was elected-the need to replace our old administration building.

At that time the council moved a motion to investigate alternatives to what was described in the council report as a building which was 'outdated and incurred considerable annual maintenance costs'.

The report also stated 'a considerable amount of money would be required to upgrade and refurbish the building to current acceptable standards'

The following year the council established a civic area redevelopment project to look at a precinct-wide development of Kings Square, including the city-owned buildings and the privately-owned Myer building.

In 2011 the council revisited these earlier plans with a fresh new approach to the Kings Square precinct and kick-started Fremantle's much-needed revitalisation.

Following an innovative 'citizens jury', the Kings Square urban design strategy was adopted by the council in June 2012.

These community-inspired design guidelines along with a comprehensive business plan were then used as the brief for the Kings Square architectural design competition.

The competition was promoted nationally and internationally in 2013 and conducted in accordance with the Australian institute of architects competition guidelines. The final winning design by Fremantle-based Kerry Hill Architects, along with other entries, formed part of a public exhibition in 2014.

Since then the council has worked to further refine the design, put our finances in order to fund the project, and entered into a commercial agreement with Sirona Capital to leverage their $220 million investment to redevelop the old Myer and Queensgate sites as part of the broader renewal of Kings Square.

The total cost to construct the new civic centre and library will be $41.3 million. We have been very diligent in keeping costs down and ensuring the best value for money for ratepayers, while also delivering a magnificent new community facility. Even so, $41.3 million is a lot of money, so it's natural for people to ask if we can afford it.

A 10-year financial plan adopted in 2015 showed the city's finances would be strengthened as a result of the Kings Square development.

The project will be funded over the next four years using a combination of existing savings, the proceeds of previous asset sales and additional borrowings. Because of prudent financial planning it does not rely on a huge increases in rates.

The increase in commercial and residential property developed as a result of Kings Square will generate more rate revenue for the city, taking the pressure off existing ratepayers.

A report prepared in 2012 showed the city would have to spend $28 million on the old building just to meet the minimum required standards, and more than $50 million to properly refurbish it and add new extensions.

So the real question around a new building was not if we could afford to do it, but rather if we could afford not to do it.

The recent demolition of the old administration building and library created an open environment at Kings Square which hasn't been seen for more than 100 years, and which prompted some to ask why we couldn't leave the square open and locate the new facilities elsewhere.

Fremantle Society cited a report from 2006 which recommended just that. However, that same report also said that in order for Kings Square to function as a big open space it would require the redevelopment of the four surrounding sides of the square, with significantly increased density and building heights.

It's also clear that Sirona would not have been willing to invest in Kings Square unless the city also committed to new civic and community facilities in the square.

The whole point of the Kings Square renewal project is to bring people back to the heart of the city and make Kings Square a safer, more attractive and vibrant space. The new civic building will do that: our current library alone attracts 14,000 visitors a month. It is a genuinely transformational project, which will breathe new life into Fremantle's civic heart for generations to come.