ANYONE who has undertaken a renovation knows that upgrades to old buildings can be expensive exercises, sometimes filled with expensive, nasty surprises.This is especially true when it comes to heritage buildings. The current restoration of The Lodge – to repair the slate roof, remove asbestos, replace electrical wiring and upgrade the heating and air conditioning systems – is expected to cost $4.45 million.
For those of us with a passion for heritage buildings, and for preserving the stories that can only be told through bricks and mortar, this is money well spent. But it does illustrate a point. Valuing our old buildings requires more than the act of adding them to a heritage register. We must invest money in maintaining them – and in many cases this means upgrading them to meet contemporary building standards.
The former Hotel Acton is a prime example of how investment in heritage buildings reaps rewards. After sitting “boarded up, behind wire fences”, “run down and unloved”, it is now one “of the most desirable, upmarket hotels in Canberra”, according to “The Canberra Times”.
While few would disagree, behind this rejuvenation was a private-sector developer willing to take a risk and invest time, energy and capital into the building.
Many other heritage buildings around Canberra have been saved through the vision and commitment of private developers. ISPT’s thoughtful renovation of the A-grade, heritage-listed building at 2 National Circuit, now known as the RM Hope Building, is another example.
Debate has raged about whether we preserve or knock down ageing public-housing flats along Northbourne Avenue. Built in the 1950s, with little consideration to energy efficiency or indoor environment quality, these buildings need a substantial investment to bring them up to contemporary standards.
Perhaps we need to reframe this discussion. If we believe these buildings are of heritage and architectural value, are we willing to spend money to restore and maintain them – even if it means spending less money on other projects that may boost economic activity, attract tourists and enhance the liveability of our city?
Catherine Carter is ACT executive director of the Property Council of Australia