$1m CON JOB
By ZOE SATHERLEY
ONE MILLION dollars is being spent to pull down the heritage-listed Northern Rivers Conservatorium Arts Centre, when it could have been saved for just half of that.
Work started yesterday to demolish the rear, unstable part of the iconic building.
However, the building in Lismore's cultural heart could have been saved as late as last September for $470,000.
"This is scandalous. We are just gob-smacked," said Con office administrator Jill Aitken.
Allan Marsh, manager of Kyogle construction company FE Marsh, confirmed that last September he ten- dered $470,000 to repair the building.
"We do a lot of work for Government departments and the repairs would have been done to engineering specifications determined by the Department of Commerce," he said.
His offer was rejected.
The Department of Education and Training undertook more investigations.
In the meantime, the building deteriorated even further.
Con staff believe heavy machinery used during Lismore City Council's Keen Street reconstruction played a part.
Yesterday, windows, doors and roofing were removed from the part of the building erected in 1911. Shortly after the walls started coming down.
Demolition work will take between two and three weeks while stabilisation of the remainder of the building, built in 1902, could take several months.
A spokesman for the DET, which owns the building, said the cost of the current works would be $722,000.
The successful tenderer was N & LN Stevens, a Grafton construction company, who subcontracted the work to Empire Vale company Dingo Demolitions.
Dingo Demolitions manager Steve Patterson said the building had deteriorated to the point where 'you can fit an arm through some of the cracks'.
"It is very dangerous, and we are proceeding very carefully" he said.
The DET has already spent $265,000 for engineering surveys, heritage consultant's fees, fencing and stabilisation work, bringing the total project cost to $987,000.
Gabrielle O'Shannessy, the Con's executive director, said she was shocked by the cost and the waste of public funds.
"Why couldn't they have just fixed it in the first place?" she said.