POLL: Old Port school faces demolition order

Ann Martin outside the former Port Kembla primary school. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR
Ann Martin outside the former Port Kembla primary school. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

An emergency demolition order has been sought for the heritage-listed former Port Kembla primary school, after the building was badly damaged by fire.

Owner Port Kembla Copper applied for the order this week after consulting a structural engineer.

If the order is granted, the entire first floor will likely be brought down, as well as everything above the windows on the ground floor.

Despite the scope of the demolition plans, a consortium of residents is refusing to let go of plans to convert the 97-year-old site into a community arts precinct.

Port Kembla Copper general manager Ian Wilson said the state of the building, gutted by fire last Thursday night, was "upsetting" but securing the safety of the site was his priority.

"We need to bring it down to a single level," he said.

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"I want to get on with the job as soon as possible because, as long as it's standing up there, people may be tempted to go and inspect it for themselves."

Police are investigating the cause of the fire, which is considered suspicious.

Ann Martin, who is a Wollongong City councillor and part of a consortium that has been working for about five years on plans to convert the disused building into a multi-function community arts space, said she hoped the plans could yet proceed.

The planned renovation and related work was priced at $3.8 million. This did not include the cost of buying the land from the Japanese investors behind Port Kembla Copper.

"We need to find a different sort of architect now," she said.

"We're going to have to go back to the drawing board."

Mrs Martin said it was worth preserving because of its history.

"It's not just the physical building, it's what happens in that building. This building is where children grew up and got the first of their life lessons. We would like to see something [remain] that has a reference to the original building."

Mr Wilson said plans to salvage the site had his support "in principle".

A 1.8 metre fence has been set up around the site.

The badly damaged building includes some asbestos sheeting.

Mr Wilson said the boundary was being monitored for asbestos spread.

The building has been heritage-listed since 1993.

A spokeswoman for Wollongong City Council said a decision on the demolition order would likely be made by the end of the week.

The council would take into consideration a structural engineer's report and advice from council's heritage officer.

"It is too early at this stage to speculate as to what areas of the building can be preserved," the spokeswoman said.


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