11 September 2019

Wild ideas to save St John’s orphanage

| John Thistleton
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St John’s orphanage

St John’s orphanage before fire destroyed sections of its structure. Photo: Supplied.

Western Sydney developer Ammar Khan says he has a redevelopment plan including a 156-unit, four-star hotel that would finance the restoration of St John’s old orphanage in Goulburn.

Mr Khan, who attracted 2.6 per cent of the vote as an independent candidate for Chifley in 2016, says he took his plan to owner John Ferrara two years ago as well as Goulburn Mulwaree Council.

Mr Khan’s redevelopment proposal includes a five-storey and three-storey resort-style hotel built in stages, a performing arts theatre and housing. He would use profits from the hotel to restore the crumbling, fire-ravaged orphanage.

But Mr Ferrara is uninterested in Mr Khan’s plans. “It’s something different altogether. I didn’t think his plan would work. He has no money. Cash speaks a lot of languages,” he said.

Mr Ferrara’s priority is a subdivision at Goulburn Airport, which he bought in $2011 for $2.5 million. He said the orphanage redevelopment would have to wait, and ultimately it would finance his retirement.

“I am only 50. I have plenty of time,” Mr Ferrara says. “Have you got any money? You should invest some money, you can make some money,” he says. “The best I can do for St John’s is to keep the front façade. The rest has to come down.”

Mr Khan says St John’s orphanage’s early history inspired him. He could organise finance and investors in the redevelopment. “I do this sort of thing often as a developer. I could do a development application, but if the owner says thanks for a job well done but no thanks, I have just wasted $10,000-$20,000. I took it to Mr Ferrara and he said he wanted to have a retirement village there. I said OK, it is your property, I respect that.”

The Catholic Church sold St John’s orphanage to Mr Ferrara in 1999 for $450,000. Subsequently, Mr Ferrara has submitted several plans for the elevated site, including a retirement village and 76 units and homes.

St John’s orphanage artist impression

An early artist’s impression of St John’s orphanage.

On a prominent hill in a residential area, St John’s scorched and broken exterior stands like a hideous smile at the town that fed and clothed its orphan boys in a previous era.

As unlikely as Mr Khan’s proposal is, the more recent restoration of the former St Joseph’s girls’ orphanage on the outskirts of town – Goulburn Regional Conservatorium occupying the old technical college in Bourke Street – and a licenced club occupying a restored Goulburn Club on Market Street demonstrate that not only do radical plans succeed in rescuing old buildings, they are essential.

Across rural Victoria entrepreneurs, small businesses and communities are restoring an old carpet mill, rescue station for coal miners, bacon curing factory and primary school to name a few projects. All of these projects were sparked by risk-taking dreamers who showed leadership.

After reading the St John’s orphanage’s recent history and watching videos, Mr Khan says the redeveloped site could bring much benefit to Goulburn. “The other old orphanage, St Joseph’s has been turned into apartments. Great. They saved the building, but I think this has to be a youth camp, or university, or something that still serves the younger generations like it did back in the day,” he says.

“That is the building giving back to the town, not me coming in as a big, greedy developer. I am not even big for starters. That is us focusing on people who need it.”

Mr Khan’s approach to a hotel chain to become involved was unsuccessful. “They wanted to be on the highway. It doesn’t mean another operator, or a private one, could not be brought in,” he says. There is a need for these four-and-a-half-star hotels. “

Mr Khan says he would facilitate deals in which separate owners come in and take up sections of the project.

Original Article published by John Thistleton on The RiotACT.

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Melinda Bowyer8:15 am 16 May 20

I would like to personally restore this building and turn it into a boarding school

it all should be pushed into the ground children was beaten and sexually molested for years and years mentally abused who would want to keep such evil alive through any sort of saved structure think about the children this is St John of God so many children was rapped reportedly for years beaten why not go to the Royal commission and see for your self what went on in this place and honor the victims by building something totally different with out memories of such sick proverted behavior of priests

Anthony Osmond8:21 pm 23 Jun 19

Yes pull the eye sore down

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