Fremantle Arts Centre

Please Comment on the Arts Centre Conservation Plan by Sunday Evening

The former lunatic asylum, now Fremantle Arts Centre, is many people's favourite Fremantle building.

Like any building it needs maintenance, an adequate budget for the building as well as the staff, sympathetic use, some restoration, and a dose of love.

Lobbying by the Fremantle Society and work by Council heritage architect Agnieshka Kiera saw the first Arts Centre conservation plan done some 20 years ago, the finials put back on the top of the building, and efforts to have the building World Heritage Listed as part of the serial listing of convict sites around Australia. The listing was unsuccessful as Council dropped the idea when Dr Pettitt became mayor.

But interestingly, the very first recommendation of the new conservation plan is to seek the World Heritage Listing again.

Public comment closes this Sunday afternoon on the new plan. The Fremantle Society hopes you will go to the Fremantle Council website, look under Have My Say, and make comment. We have some ideas for you below, but could not get them to you any earlier because we have to consult various experts, and do site visits and pull together our own final report which is still being written.

Conservation Management Plans are extremely expensive and comprehensive documents which are designed to guide the preservation, restoration, and enhancement of significant buildings and places.

Too often they end up sitting on a shelf, unread and unfunded.

When then Cr Pettitt and others gave the Fremantle Markets to the Murdoch family instead of putting them out for public tender, there was a Conservation Plan instigated by Cr Dowson outlining that the Markets needed $4.5 million of works. Twelve years later, with some $20 million lost in possible revenue for ratepayers, only $900,000 has been spent, and now $5.6 million is needed.

The Arts Centre plan needs a clear set of guidelines that get costed and funded.

It is an enormously significant place, but the plan does not yet adequately reflect that. As one expert view we received stated: 

There was an opportunity to improve on the assessment of architectural character, but it relies instead on style labels instead of description. This leaves it poor in its assessment of aesthetic value and in understanding the social value that comes from people's use and enjoyment of the spaces and the place. It means there is no real policy for retaining that significance. 

There is a lack of description of the building construction and structure perhaps because it is not obvious on site, but which can be accessed through drawings and people with long experience of the place and the two key phases of its construction. I refer to the details of the stonework, and the roofs and the floors. There is good evidence in this place of building construction and design history that deserves to be described and made available as an educational resource (contributes to Scientific value).

Conservation Plans can be treasure troves of information and the new one has hundreds of pages of fascinating material, but if improved could also be a manual for looking after other properties as well. 

Members do not have to be experts to comment. Community views are very important, but when sought by Council only resulted in two responses. Even reflections on personal use can be valuable in ascribing significance to the place.

The photo at the top shows a new totally inappropriate tin roof beginning to be put on the Arts Centre on the right, which the Fremantle Society tried to prevent. The original roof was sheoak shingles and if they are too expensive then facsimile ones should be used. The current brown roofing was installed by Rob Campbell in 1972 and is due for replacement. But it should not be sheets of tin which were not used when the building was built. The Conservation plan should be changed as it recommends new roofing to be "consistent with current re-roofing program."

The second photo shows poor current maintenance, with water running down the walls, and at the bottom it cannot get away from the building because the area is clogged with debris. The downpipes were copper but were stolen, and replaced with plastic. No heritage building of high significance should have plastic pipes visible on the outside, but they are appearing more and more in Fremantle. The insurance money council received for the stolen copper could have paid for their replacement.

Other ideas to focus on include protecting views to and from the place (and thus not selling the Leisure Centre Car Park as in council's own 10 year plan), ridding the west wall  of its damaging ivy, repairing boundary walls, stone conservation needed in many areas, particularly the columns of the front arcade, damp repairs, considering relocating the cafe away from the walls, and even reinstalling part of the front entrance on the west by getting rid of the free car parking bays and extending the lawn over them.

Go to it please!

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society


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