Last Thursday we held a special Round Table meeting, in the wake of the news about the Community Hub and its relocation. It was the first time the whole group had had a chance to get together and receive a briefing from council acting CEO Bryan Sword about the details of the new location, the reasons, and ‘where to’ from here.
Before I pass on what we were told, I must give you a brief refresher of the history of the community hub, just to blow out of the water some of the astonishing narratives that have been circulating around the town about what has been happening with the hub, the railway land, the rail trail and the council.
Exactly two years ago this month extensive community consultation occurred over the preferred site for a Community Hub (check it out on the Korumburra App!). Four preferred options were put forward, and the Railway site was the original site chosen by the community. It was easy to see why – it was flat, had expansive areas for parking, great views, and of course there was access to our magnificent heritage railway station, which could be incorporated into the design. Next thing we knew the Station Working Group were successful in receiving a $1.5 million grant for restoration of the station! Things just kept getting better.
But as preliminary analyses were made of the site, potential traffic flow in and out was proving to be challenging; and then when council got down to the complex negotiations with Victrack (who own the railway land), it transpired that the longest lease they would entertain was for a period of 18 years.
Clearly that is not long enough for a permanent community facility.
Then to add insult to injury: the state government withdrew its promised grant of $1.5 million for the station. It was a bitter blow.
Despite the fact that Jenny Keerie, David Rasmus and the Station Working Group remained optimistic about the grant and their plans for the station and the site, we were all starting to think – “Do we sit on our hands and wait it out? Or do we make a decision that enough time has been spent on this site and move on to one of the other previously identified sites?”.
Fortunately the administrators were prepared to move in and make a decision, and they decided that we should get on with it.
Why the old Kindergarten site?
The difference this time is that the architects engaged for the railway site were involved. They have had extensive experience designing both libraries and hubs, and were able to look over all three sites, and they could see huge potential in the north-facing kinder block, with its beautiful outlook and loads of natural light suitable for a library and learning space.
The site is actually flatter than we thought and has good access from all sides. It connects well with Commercial Street through Karmai Arcade as well as with shops that have rear access.
The build will involve street-scaping Little Commercial Street to enhance foot traffic, creating easy access to the Hub, and parking will definitely be addressed as part of the architects’ brief. The site is crown land, so no acquisitions are required, no rezoning and basically there is nothing stopping the Hub progressing straight away.
When the KRT executive first found out about 2 weeks ago, we were gobsmacked! The Kinder site??? But after all the advantages were explained to us, we could see that this really was an exciting option, and after a period of uncertainty over the railway site, it will become a reality soon, creating a vibrant space in the centre of town.
It would be disingenuous of me to sign off without mentioning the ongoing bruhaha over the rail trail. Hopefully I can clear this one up very quickly, because the facts are unambiguously simple: The KRT believes passenger rail will return to South Gippsland – it is most definitely needed.
Unfortunately this will not be occurring in the next few decades (as evidenced by the state government’s (i.e. Victrack’s) 18-year lease to council of the railway land. Since the 2017-18 Budget, Council has been investigating as part of its Parks and Trails Strategy the feasibility of extending the Great Southern Rail Trail back this way from Leongatha to Korumburra and beyond, and that rail trail became a ‘‘project-ready priority” of council in this budget, along with the Leongatha Streetscape and the Korumburra Hub.
No-one else has access to the track to do anything else with it. No-one.
The complex 150-page lease document is exclusively between the council and Victrack; and if anyone else is telling you they can bring back any other sort of train any sooner (particularly over the road intersection in Leongatha), you need to ask them, specifically, how they are going to do this. It’s as simple as that.
So the KRT left the meeting feeling quite relieved and reinvigorated. It finally feels as if we can start moving forward with this project; hopefully with no hiccups this time. And within a few years we will have an amazing facility of which we can all be proud.
And THIS time you can hold me to it!