Old Bega Hospital Reserve Land Manager

Chair's Report to 2021 AGM, 9 November 2021

The end of 2020 was filled with meetings and myriads of  issues to be resolved. We had a short festive break and were back at work thinking and deciding. We were not quite so intensive in January as (most of) the architectural team were on holidays although Lian kept Richard busy with decisions - so us by default. We held a January meeting to keep up. We judge busy years by how often we need to call a January meeting. So that was the start of a busy 6 months. The architectural team was still busy creating the DA to go to Council for approval as soon as possible.

In March the funding grant document was ready to be signed. Also March brought a pleasing notice that we had been successful ($35,270) in a CRIF (Crown Reserves Improvement Fund) round and secured funding to re-roof the Operating Theatre  (home to Bega Valley Weavers) and the Laundry (the Valley Potters). Work start late May. Both groups had endured inconvenient wet spots for several years and were very pleased. In fact Covid issues, wet weather and material delays meant they had to wait until July for the work to occur. So we have 3 shiny silver roofs and we hope to add the fourth and largest during 2022. A pleasing sight to view  as we approach the site from the road.

A less pleasing aspect of the OBH site by April was the circular road which was deteriorating rapidly. While we were wondering what source of funding we could approach to manage this problem John solved it by writing an insurance claim. Clearly, the photos were convincing because Crown Lands Insurance accepted the claim. John approached R D Miller to provide a quote  for repair of the road and they obliged. We were not able to produce any other takers for the road repair and Crown Lands Insurance took the matter out of our hands and managed it between themselves and R D Miller. We were very grateful for the support - and the high quality road outcome. In the process, and with more heavy rain, R D Miller staff and the Insurance team agreed that more than the originally planned drainage was necessary to protect the surface. The Land Manager took advantage of a Small Heritage grant through BVSC and a very helpful plumber who provided immediate service to install the extra drain prior to the roadworks. I think we can boast the best drained road in the Bega Valley now. A great collaboration between the Land Manager, Crown Lands and local business.

Covid issues were impinging on the Bega Valley by then and Crown Lands was very helpful in keeping us informed so we could inform all the user groups. Groups were abiding by the restrictions but we finally had to close the site for a month. It would have been a good time to conduct the roadworks but the construction staff were stood down too. The site was lonely but the Beekeepers were able to effect essential care for the beehives on site and CareSouth was regarded as an essential service and continued too.

With a flurry of final decisions to be made - as had continued over these months - the architects, and our project manager were ready to submit the DA for a combined Stage 1 and 2 to BVSC. One issue creating problems for the Land Manager was the BVSC insistence that we had to finance the new roadworks to an undefined part of the Newtown Road entry (Corkhill Place). We already knew that a Tarra Ford DA had been approved and that included a similar road construction requirement. Our early 2021 funding application to the Bushfire Local Economy Recovery grant included a bid for what amounts to a substantial contribution to the road entry and general road quality. The Land Manager has taken the stance that the road is a Council road and thus likely to be able to be funded under road construction council sources of funding. The Land Manager applied to Crown Lands to explore possible funding sources. Crown Lands replied that they would not fund a Council owned property. BVSC was adamant that unless the Land Manager incorporated the responsibility for funding its “share” of the project , there was no chance of the Land Manager receiving an Occupation Certificate. The Land Manager was viewing - in a very dispirited way (me at least) - the more than trickle of money being consumed in such bureaucratic requirements and wondering if we could even achieve the “bare bones” restoration we thought we could.

On 30 June we finally learned that our Bushfire Local Economic Recovery application ($1,212,399) - on which we had pinned such faith - was not successful. We also learned that there was another funding round for those who had not been successful - the Black Summer Bushfire Recovery (BSBR) round. We applaud the local groups e.g. a fellow Crown Lands group, the Bega Showground,  on their success. And well appreciate the monumental effort they demonstrated during the bushfire emergency. OBH had not been damaged during the bushfire: but we did house some few vulnerable evacuated people who could not cope with the necessary noise and bustle and needed calm and quiet.

In reviewing our available funding - and in consultation with the architects and our project manager - we reluctantly decided to divide the project into two so that we can produce something functional for at least limited community use; and wait for a further opportunity to apply for another grant that will incorporate some of the valued components we’ve been forced to put on hold while we comply with all sorts of basic construction issues. So an amended DA has been submitted and, while there have been ongoing discussions between the architects and project manager and Richard, our chosen Land Manager representative, we have waited for a decision specifying whatever additional conditions BVSC may impose. We hope the many emails and discussions may have ironed out any issues of discord. We have commissioned local firm, Caddey, Searl and Jarman to draw up (our share of the Corkhill Place) road plans  and hope that we will be successful with our BSBR application and can proceed to the tendering and construction processes with some confidence. Recent published information about building material shortages hasn’t been encouraging. In early November, were given a chance to comment on the draft DA document final. The insistence on the Corkhill Place roadworks and part of the sewer works gave us initial cause for angst but it seems some negotiation and commonsense has resolved the problems. I feel more confident now.

There were still enough other issues to discuss at monthly meetings. We noted the intention of Andrew Constance to resign from State Parliament (30 November) and try for a Federal seat. We  thank Andrew (and his very obliging Bega Office staff) for his efforts on our behalf and have asked him whether there may be some chance of finding some extra funding to ease our current financial disquiet. The BSBR application process was extended to October and Richard, our esteemed application writer, has submitted our application ($1,551,285). We hope to hear by Christmas. Now that projected election and  by-election dates are in the air, could we hope that financial generosity might be in the air? As well we await news of funding through Club Grants to renew the Nurses Quarters veranda and upgrade the internal kitchenette.

In early August I received an email that suggested that our nominations for Individual and Team categories for Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (Crown Lands) Regional Awards of Excellence (for which I and the LM team were semi-finalists in 2020) had been included again for 2021. At first I thought that there were not enough nominations this year - what with all the Covid disruptions - and those not chosen last year were given a second chance. However, it seems that a nominator unknown has done it again. On 29 September a panel chose both myself and the LM as finalists. What was planned for a November Award Presentation event has been delayed until February 2021. John, our Treasurer, is very hopeful we might be chosen and be able to add an unexpected source of funds to the restoration project. Perhaps it might contribute to the fanlights I hope to see in the restored building. The Editor of the Bega District News noted the local candidates for the Awards and detailed a reporter to interview and photograph me. While I tried to focus on the team effort - and what a great collaborative effort it has been - the reporter kept bringing the focus back to me. I must admit I prefer to work backstage!

Which brings me to the role of the Friends of OBH Inc and the Fundraising (now Events) Committee. 2020 brought great disappointment in terms of having to cancel the two major fundraising events - the Trivia Night and the Raise the Roof Spring Fair. We hoped for better times in 2021 but, again, Covid has dashed our hopes. Gordon has organised 2 successful on line raffles - so thank you to Gordon and all who participated. Roll on 2022 when we might be able to talk and mingle again. Claire has been busy compiling her research resources and many stories about OBH and is in the final stages of editing her book ready for publication. We  had hoped we would be launching and selling the book at Raise the Roof . Not to be. All not for profit groups are facing the same (non) fundraising challenge. Thanks to the user groups who have trundled on regardless and shown interest in the progress of restoration.

Thanks to the Land Manager members who have turned up time after time to meetings and responded with approvals, suggestions and occasional disagreements to many emails circulated almost daily between meetings. For all the years I, and Jay in particular, have served on Trusts and Land Managers chosen members have worked conscientiously with the focus on restoring the Main Building to its former glory and use to the community. As a group we have been accustomed to collaborate, negotiate the tricky points of disagreement and get on with the mammoth task we have set ourselves.

More of the same busyness is ahead of us once we have the formal DA approval (and conditions) and can move onto the tendering process; once again, trying to read behind the words of the claims to choose a builder who is competent,  sympathetic and understanding of our hopes and plans for the project. Thanks in particular to Richard for his dedicated approach to his position as project rep and application writer and John who has kept detailed financial records and also kept us well informed as to how much (or how little) we have to spend. And done it cheerfully! We are a focussed team: and if there is one aspect I have complete confidence in, it is that the male members’ regular animated discussions concerning the sewerage system will produce an excellent result (Claire and I have no expertise and stay silent at these times, although I have learnt a lot). This activity stood us in good stead when Richard participated in a discussion with the architects’ consultants: the experts had misread the plan confusing north and south. Luckily, Richard immediately recognised the error and corrected it. Phew! Similarly, the architects’ consultants had difficulty comprehending the issue of power usage on site and, it seemed we were headed for a very expensive upgrade - above and beyond anything we had planned for. John stepped forward and negotiated with Essential Energy and the problem was solved to our benefit.

Thanks also to the Bega Men's Shed who have contributed lawn mowing and small repairs to the site and, particularly, during the absence of the Corrective Services Community Service Order participants during the Covid restrictions. In the first part of 2021 the CSO participants provided most valuable service and we look forward to their return.

Despite our stern statements concerning our very limited budget to our project partners in restoration, it has not always been well appreciated by them and, particularly, some of the consultants involved; and have needed to be repeated. Nevertheless, we thank the team at Public Works Advisory for working with us (as well as behind the scenes), to the Design 5 team and, especially, Lian Wong, who has been most diligent with a multitude of details and many negotiations with staff at BVSC. And the staff at BVSC who have responded. We hope this ongoing communication will lead to a DA with few (or no) unexpected conditions and a smooth path to construction start.

Recently Richard learned about a new NSW opportunity called Blue Plaques (based on a UK scheme) to celebrate and honour community heritage sites. The Land Manager has enthusiastically approved nominating OBH and forwarded an application to Andrew Constance. Usually one person or a small group would be honoured and named but we have chosen to honour all the many former community members who contributed in a multitude of ways to progress the idea from one man’s vision to a constructed building serving the whole community.

I also wish to acknowledge the part that Andrew Constance has played in advocating for us and finding a source of funding available to state MPs for projects not otherwise chosen for funding but considered important to the electorate. Andrew has been visiting OBH and talking to the various Trusts and Land Managers throughout his term in office. We remember the spontaneous and hearty cheer that the crowd gave (possibly to his surprise) as he opened the Bega Men's Shed in February 2015 and gestured towards the OBH Main Building and said that he would now turn his attention to finding a way to restoring the building. Thanks, Andrew! That was a great day for everyone there.

Thanks to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment for help and support, the Grants Management Office for support, help and understanding as various delays have meant we have had to negotiate new Milestone dates, to Crown Lands CRIF team for negotiating with us relating to the timing of use of grant money and to Crown Lands (generally) for information, help and advice (as well as the shiny new roofs).

On a sad note: I wish to record the death of gardening expert, Margaret Sirl: one of the hard working 1988 Bicentennial restoration volunteers. Margaret planned and supervised the planting of the garden (the heritage roses have continued to thrive and give pleasure) and, in recent times, has handed out sage advice to callers with gardening problems on Edge FM radio station on Wednesdays during John’s weekly session. Margaret was already planning the new garden when this restoration was completed. We will miss her gentle manner, her knowledge, experience and commitment to OBH.

What we can expect in 2022 is action on the OBH site and more decisions and, I suspect, compromises to solve unexpected problems. We are reconciled to that. A busy year ahead!

Pat Jones
Old Bega Hospital (R.180050) Reserve Land Manager