The Khancoban Hall should be saved, rather than demolished, according to a world-wide architectural group.
The historical significance of a 1960s building constructed in a Snowy town is being put under the microscope as the Snowy Valleys Council grapples with a decision to either save an asbestos-infested community hall, or knock it down and build a new one.
The Khancoban Hall has been shut for almost a year, after an inspection revealed substantial amounts of both friable and bonded asbestos in the building.
Built in the 1960s by Snowy Hydro to provide a recreational and community facility for the scheme’s workers and their families, which then numbered a couple of thousand, the hall continued to be an important meeting place for the small township, which now numbers in the low hundreds.
That was, until last year, when the public was shut out for safety reasons.
Now, the council will spend $20,000 to examine options on how to give Khancoban residents a hall – either the existing one, minus the asbestos, at an estimated cost of $650,000 or so; or a new facility estimated at cost $2.2 million.
A worldwide group that has given itself the task of identifying and conserving buildings and neighbourhoods displaying a modern architectural heritage has written to the council urging it to keep the hall.
Docomomo has branches in 62 countries, including Australia, and its Australian president Dr Scott Robertson wants the council to retain the hall.
In a letter to the council, he described the hall as an excellent built example of the tenets of post-war modernism.
“These include the simplicity of form as a symmetrical, flat-roofed, composition of two rectangular prisms and the external expression of the supporting steel structure that, not only creates column and beam-free internal space, but also visually demonstrates the structural forces supporting the building,” Dr Robertson said.
“The layout of the town reflects the then current thinking in town planning, with the layouts of the streets following the contours and minimizing through roads.”
It’s not certain who designed the hall, but the Snowy Mountains Authority commissioned Melbourne architects Yuncken Freeman to design the layout of the town, as well as a number of buildings, including the accommodation hostel, the bank, and the Scandanavian-inspired town shops.
He said Yuncken Freeman were an important Melbourne firm that had designed buildings such as the Sydney Myer Music Bowl and BHP House.
“We would consider the demolition of the Community Hall to be a needless destruction of an important architectural and heritage item within a town that is one of the few completed, intact 1960s towns that has few original intrusions into the townscape,” Dr Richardson said.
“In our opinion, the town, its buildings and landscape are worthy of being recognized on statutory heritage registers.”
He argues the retention of the 1960s buildings in the town would be a unique opportunity to market Khancoban as a modernism tourism destination to aficionados of architecture.
Giving the existing hall a makeover won’t come cheaply, largely due to the cost of removing the asbestos, with the council getting a quote for $434,040.
Now more than 50 years old, the building also has a leaky roof, and other areas of the building have deteriorated.
That’s likely to add another couple of hundred thousand dollars to the refurbishment bill.
Demolishing the building would cost about half a million dollars, and a new building comes in at about $1.5m. Throw in a few contingencies and the council staff have estimated a new hall could cost close to $2.8m.
The council would likely get some help with that cost from Snowy Hydro, which is interested in sharing a facility for its visitors centre.
Either way, the council hasn’t set aside any funding for the project, and would need to source grants.
For now, it’s ordered a $20,000 study to help councillors decide what they should do.