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General view of the Willoughby Incinerator on 16 March 2008 following the first phase of the restoration works. Photo: Bob McKillop.

Much has happened at the Griffin-designed Willoughby Incinerator in Small Street since we reported the decision of Willoughby City Council in August 2006 to undertake a full restoration of the building. As of March 2008, the initial demolition and removal of previous additions had been completed, together with the preliminary testing of all structures.

Testing found that the chloride level in most of the concrete is at a level high enough to cause corrosion of the reinforcement. Cracking is present in the entire height of the chimney, which is in a very poor state, while much of the floor is also in poor condition.

The consultants have assessed several options for the future use of the building, including as a regional gallery. Unfortunately the incinerator site is not well located to capitalise on visitation, public transport and car parking. The building itself is quite small; there is no access for loading bays and no space for storage. In addition, the heritage listing of the building carries a number of restrictions that may prevent the necessary alterations to make it effective as a regional gallery. The strict climate control systems necessary for such use would also add considerably to the cost.

Accordingly the consultants have recommended that the Willoughby Incinerator be developed as a cafe, exhibition/meeting rooms and artist studios. Council has endorsed the report’s advice on the use of the building.

Work will now commence on the repair and restoration of the structure prior to the final fit-out for use. In addition, the proposed use of the building as a public venue will require installation of a lift near the north western corner (estimated cost $250,000). A public art component will be incorporated in the lift over-run pit and it is proposed that an artist of note be commissioned to prepare this component.

The technical problems now identified and additional works have resulted in an increase in the cost of repair and restoration works. The total cost of the restoration project (including the lift) is now estimated at $1.87 million. The additional funds ($670,000) will be funded from Council’s Asset Improvement Reserve.

The Incinerator when completed will be a remarkable building which will provide a valuable addition to Council’s community facilities.

The restoration work has taken considerably longer than expected but the end result will be a great example of reuse of a heritage building. The additional restoration cost including the provision of a lift for people with disabilities is vital to ensure that the building meets the needs of all of our community.