Feasibility study “does not respect the heritage” of 310 St Kilda Rd
A prominent veterans’ organisation has slammed a feasibility report commissioned by the Department of Defence into the future use of the former repatriation clinic at 310 St Kilda Rd as “tone deaf”.
Renowned architecture and heritage consultant Lovell Chen was engaged by the building’s owner, the Department of Defence, after the former Morrison Government announced a review into the dormant facility in March.
The Lovell Chen report, seen by Southbank News and released under Freedom of Information, put forward three separate options for Defence to consider, being offices, a conference centre and childcare.
Veterans’ group, the Australian National Veterans’ Arts Museum (ANVAM), has long sought access to the building to establish a gallery, arts studios and mental health support services for the rehabilitation of veterans.
But despite years of lobbying to government and amid a recent damning Royal Commission into veteran suicide, the scope of services listed by Defence in its tender documents for the review didn’t include ANVAM’s proposal.
As reported in October edition of Southbank News, new Assistant Minister for Defence in the Albanese Government Matt Thistlethwaite wrote to ANVAM in September stating the building would be used “to support Defence purposes”.
Southbank News understands that “option 2”, which recommends the building be used as a conference centre, while including 277 sqm across two floors for “Defence Community” uses, has been nominated by Defence as its preferred direction.
In all three options, Lovell Chen also suggested placing basement car parking underneath the building as well as making significant changes to the internal layout, which ANVAM chairman Mark Johnston said was disrespectful to the clinic’s heritage values.
Mr Johnston described the report as “tone deaf” and questioned how office space, a conference centre and childcare were more important than honouring the building’s history as a place supporting the welfare of veterans.
He also argued that with office vacancies increasingly on the rise following the pandemic, other conference spaces available in the local area and an existing childcare centre located metres away on Coventry St, the proposed uses were not aligned with best public policy.
The former Repatriation Commission Outpatient Clinic was built at 310 St Kilda Rd in 1937 for the health and wellbeing of World War One veterans, and subsequently supported World War Two, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.
The building has been vacant since 1995, and in 2015 the Department of Defence listed the building as surplus to requirement and has since attempted to offload it to another level of government for a peppercorn sum under Commonwealth property disposal rules.
But previous efforts to offload the site to both the Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne failed due to what Liberal Senator David Van last year described as “the disrepair it’s been allowed to fall into” by the Department of Defence.
Images within the Lovell Chen report laid bare the building’s state of disrepair, detailing that “the deteriorated condition of the roof, rainwater goods, and stormwater system has contributed to several instances of exterior damage”.
During an inspection in May this year, Lovell Chen noted “active leaks” which had “substantially rotted timber floor structures and finishes (particularly the parquetry in the waiting hall), and have encouraged the widespread growth of mould, fungus, and other organic matter throughout the ceilings, walls, floors, and joinery”.
Cracking, corrosion and “blistering and bubbling” paintwork were among several internal issues cited due largely to the “failing roof”.
Having been re-elected to the seat of Macnamara, local federal MP Josh Burns is understood to have recently toured through 310 St Kilda Rd.
Asked by Southbank News whether he considered the options put forward in Lovell Chen’s report to fit with best public policy for the building, he only said he would continue to advocate on ANVAM’s behalf.
“ANVAM is a vibrant local organisation led by veterans to strengthen fellow veteran wellbeing through the arts,” Mr Burns said.
“I have had discussions regarding ANVAM’s future with the Assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans’ Affairs and will continue to advocate on ANVAM’s behalf.”
President of the Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society and Southbank resident Robin Grow, who has also toured through the building, said it was vital that any future use preserved all of the former repatriation clinic’s heritage values.
"The Clinic was established in 1937 as a repatriation facility for veterans recovering from trauma and was a vital contributor to the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families," Mr Grow said.
"The building has been empty for some years and It has been proposed that it be restored and re-purposed. For many years it was considered to be an excellent fit for an arts-based centre to be run by the Australian National Veterans' Arts Museum (ANVAM)."
"It is reasonably intact and has been assessed as in reasonable condition given its age and the fact that it has been empty for some years."
"All parties involved in determining its future are conscious of the need to maintain the heritage values of the site, which should be successfully combined with modern facilities. Heritage features of the site should be restored and retained, whatever the re-purposing outcome may be."