OUR SAY | Caldwell House heritage debate will be coloured by outside factors

FUTURES UNKNOWN: There are plans to demolish heritage-listed Caldwell House and the adjacent nurses quarters buildings. Photo: GOOGLE
FUTURES UNKNOWN: There are plans to demolish heritage-listed Caldwell House and the adjacent nurses quarters buildings. Photo: GOOGLE

TRADITIONALLY, the debate about heritage buildings in Orange has tended to run along two mutually exclusive lines.

Developers tend to argue against restoration, opting for new construction wherever possible. On the other side of the fence, a small but politically-effective heritage lobby work hard to preserve as many buildings as possible. The result has often been a bitter war or words.

There was an expectation of similarly spirited debate over the proposed development of heritage-listed Caldwell House and the adjacent nurses quarters buildings when news of their proposed demolition broke in the Central Western Daily on Monday.

A development application for the sites claims it would cost up to $2.7 million to clean up the asbestos, while even retaining just the facades was costed at $2.4 million. Even in the realm of developers, those are not small amounts.

That may yet prove to be the case, but for the time being the discussion – still in its initial stages – has had a distinct lack of fire.

A reason for that is the presence of three sizable factors – one new, one old, one perpetual – whose full effects on the final decision about the sites’ futures will take a while to become clear: the announcement the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) will build its new offices on the adjacent block, the presence of asbestos on-site, and simple economics.

The fact the DPI’s 700-strong team will call the former Orange Base Hospital site home from 2020 will understandably colour the perspectives of council and would-be developers to the surrounding blocks. It has to: the needs and wants of that many people, located in one place for eight hours each weekday, can’t be ignored.

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Meanwhile, the Orange Local Environment Plan of 2011 said the site was “significantly contaminated by asbestos”. In that same year, Mission Australia inspected the building as a possible home for the aged care facility it has since completed at the Bloomfield campus. It didn’t get off the ground because, in the words of the organisation’s aged care general manager Jill Bicknell, “it would be very difficult because of the asbestos”.

Which brings us neatly to the third point – a development application for the sites claims it would cost up to $2.7 million to clean up the asbestos, while even retaining just the facades was costed at $2.4 million. Even in the realm of developers, those are not small amounts.

All of these factors, and others still to be discovered or stated, will shape the debate, and thus determine the future of the Sale Street blocks.

Only time will tell what that future is.

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