Here we go ’round again

IN 2007 the Latrobe Valley arts community and its supporters said enough is enough.

They were fed up with the conditions of Traralgon’s Little Theatre and Town Hall, and having to hold performances in neighbouring municipalities with superior facilities.

The subsequent formal calls for construction of a state-of-the-art performing arts and convention centre in the Latrobe Valley prompted a merry-go-round of community debate and division among Latrobe City councillors.

Seven years later, it seems the community is no closer to having its new performing arts centre.

In December 2009 council released a consultant’s study on the feasibility of building an arts and convention centre in the Valley.

The report did not settle on one location for the proposed facility. Instead, it recommended either the corner of Kay and Church streets in Traralgon, or next to Kernot Hall Lake in Morwell as viable sites.

And so, the unique challenge of running a municipality with three major towns reared its head.

Traralgon residents rallied hard, fighting to retain the town’s historic connection to performing arts.

Over the course of the debate, 48 submissions, 433 pro-forma letters and a 1000-signature petition were handed to council in support of the Traralgon option.

There were 12 submissions and a 100-signature petition in favour of the Morwell option, with Facebook pages established for both campaigns.

Morwell was seen as the most accessible option because of its centrality. But Traralgon residents argued from a Gippsland-wide perspective, Traralgon was the mid-way point between Warragul and Sale – both towns boasting quality performing arts facilities.

For the most part, local performing arts groups do not favour one location over another, just the swift construction of the facility.

In April 2010 council officers recommended council adopt the Traralgon option. They would maintain this view throughout the saga.

Then the first of a series of twists and turns in the debate hit, with Moe-based Cr Lisa Price successfully moving a motion to defer a decision until council investigated Monash University Churchill as a potential site, an option that had been ruled out in the feasibility study.

The move drew public outrage and disappointment.

Councillors squabbled.

Most notably when Cr Price turned to Traralgon-based councillor Rohan Fitzgerald after moving the Churchill motion and said “game on”.

Cr Fitzgerald called the matter to the council’s attention. Cr Price denied the comment. But, as a witness to the proceeding, The Express backed Cr Fitzgerald’s claims.

The Traralgon Community Development Association and Moe and District Residents Association claimed the Churchill motion was part of a plan to attract votes for Cr Graeme Middlemiss, who was standing as Labor’s candidate for the seat of Morwell in 2010. Cr Middlemiss denied this.

The Churchill option was eventually ruled out after discussions with Monash, with council officers again recommending the Traralgon option.

But the five-to-four council majority opposed the Traralgon location and Cr Bruce Lougheed moved a motion to settle on the Kernot Hall Lake site for the state-of-the-art facility, but keep and maintain the Traralgon Little Theatre and Town Hall. This was supported five-to-four.

There were subsequent attempts by Traralgon-based councillors to overturn the decision and calls for a State Government investigation.

Morwell had been chosen as the preferred site. But since the middle of 2010, the project has sat dormant, waiting for adequate funds.

It’s one of the ‘big three’ major council projects that require multi-millions of dollars in state and federal investment, along with an indoor regional pool and the Moe railway precinct project, which is underway.

Now council officers are recommending a review of both the Morwell and Traralgon performing arts options, suggesting the Morwell option may be less financially viable.

There’s been a council election and potentially a shift in the majority view on the arts issue.

Here we go ’round, again.

The arts community waits.