UPDATE: Eurobodalla Shire Council has voted to approve the lease of Batemans Bay Community Centre from July 1, 2021.
EARLIER: The Batemans Bay Community Centre’s fate will be decided at Eurobodalla Shire Council’s ordinary meeting today, December 8.
It follows last month’s decision to defer a motion put by Cr Anthony Mayne to reclassify the land on which the Batemans Bay Community Centre (BBCC) sits.
The reclassification from ‘operational’ to ‘community’ would allow Eurobodalla Shire Council to accept Expressions of Interest (EOI) from organisations seeking to lease the property.
The proposal has created a storm of controversy on social media and in the community, with many claiming it will leave valued community groups homeless.
More than 120 groups used the centre last year and 15 community groups hire the centre on a weekly basis. This includes Meals on Wheels; U3A; Shugyo Martial Arts; South Coast Stompers; Goshin Ryu Karate; South Coast Colleges and Batemans Bay Line Dancers.
The decision to investigate the potential for leasing the community centre dates back to August, which is when councillors were briefed on an EOI process.
A report to council states: “The EOI process and the proposed responses to community input provide an opportunity to meet the needs of community groups with alternative venues at the same time as supporting the expansion of social services locally.
“Due to the level of interest in retaining the Community Centre for community use, the EOI was only open to groups who could establish a community benefit rather than a purely commercial one. The EOI was for a lease only, not for the sale of the Batemans Bay Community Centre.”
However, his words were little to no comfort to representatives of groups desperate to keep the centre they call home in community hands.
“The Batemans Bay Community Centre was created through community passion and hard work, contributions of time, materials and effort, backed up by continued use over many years,” PerfEx representative Henk Roubos said.
“It was not built by some commercial group with profit in their eyes, but by people making something to give back to the community for the future.”
U3A’s Margaret Turner said leasing the centre was tantamount to evicting 600 members and leaving the majority of them with no suitable place in which to meet and hold their classes.
“As has been stated many times before, the BBCC is the only building in Eurobodalla which has the size, ease of access, technical equipment and versatility which is necessary to meet our requirements. And that, of course, means that until the new Arts, Aquatic and Leisure Centre is built and can be demonstrated to be a suitable substitute for the Community Centre, there is simply no case for disallowing organisations like ours from having access to the existing Community Centre,” she said.
Ms Turner said to lease the centre during the backdrop of the COVID pandemic just made matters even worse.
“Social distancing requirements mean that few of our tutors can conduct their classes from their own homes. A consequence of this is that our venue hire costs next year will be significantly greater than they have ever been,” she said.
“Any not-for-profit organisation like ours has to operate on a shoe-string at the best of times, but now is the worst of times. Our access to the Community Centre is crucially important to us.”
However, news that the Batemans Bay community and tourist centres would be sold and the facilities moved to the new McKay Park Centre is not new, according to a council spokesperson, who described the social media backlash after Cr Mayne’s presentation to council as “disappointing”.
“Council has previously made public its intent to review the use of the community centre but there is no drive to lease the centre… Council has received unsolicited interest in the centre from a number of parties over the last couple of years but this is the first time a formal EOI process has been undertaken … (Council) has an obligation to manage (this unsolicited interest) with a return to the community,” the spokesperson said.
“The deferred report … is the means for council to arrive at a decision on leasing the facility.”
That report will address matters raised by the community that include the Meals on Wheels services program remaining at the community centre as a requirement in the conditions of any lease; a commitment to relocated users that they will not pay more for a comparable site than they currently pay and that they will receive three months at no cost; and a detailed analysis of the features of the principal Batemans Bay venues that users would be relocated to for comparison of features and facilities.
However, PerfEx representative Dr Sue McKenzie remains unimpressed.
“Despite earlier promises, the Mackay Park Centre is not going to duplicate or replicate the community centre in either amenities, cost or accessibility,” she said.
“A wise decision would be to put off any socially-impacting moves until Mackay Park is well embedded – to see how we really do use it, or how others use it – and then do some community consultation if changes are mooted.
“This arbitrary, high-handed approach is a real detriment to the reputation of council and our regard for them as our elected body.”