Happy now: Cheryl Haughton gets to know her new office in the building she first worked in 40 years ago.
Happy now: Cheryl Haughton gets to know her new office in the building she first worked in 40 years ago. Chris Ison

Historic library is transformed

SHE remembers the pigeon droppings, rainwater cascading down the stairs and the oppressive heat.

For young library assistant Cheryl Haughton, her early working days in Rockhampton’s dark and dingy School of Arts were not a happy experience.

Fast forward 40 years and Cheryl is back, this time as Rockhampton Regional Council’s strategic manager of community development and culture. And she can’t wait to occupy her new office in the refurbished School of Arts building in Bolsover Street.

Cheryl is one of the 20 or so community department staff who, from today, will call the historic landmark home. And this time there are no pigeons and there’s a cooling breeze wafting through the open windows.

The School of Arts was abandoned for 33 years as unsafe before the accumulated grime of decades was cleared as part of a $3 million repair and refurbishment project.

“The result is stunning,” said Cheryl, yesterday, as workmen put the finishing touches to the interior.

“When I first started work it was not a pleasant place to be. It was so hot, the windows didn’t open, the skylights leaked and the pigeons had invaded. It was the city’s main library and, with all the books and sombre atmosphere it was quite dark.

“But I’m very happy to be back and looking forward to working in it now it looks as beautiful as this. I imagine as soon as the doors are open to the public there will be a lot of people coming through. Memories will flood back,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Rose Swadling, for whom the refurbishment was a cherished long-term project, admitted that at times during the work it was touch and go if the building could be saved.

“The cracks in the walls caused by the foundations that had shifted were really bad. It might have fallen over and there were times when I thought it would,” she said. “But you would never imagine that looking at it now.”

The community’s staff move in today and the doors will open to the public in a couple of weeks when the heritage building will provide access to the Rockhampton Regional Library.

“It’s a wonderful marriage of the old and new and we believe it to be best practice re-use of an old building.

“The structure has been underpinned, the cracks fixed, new floors laid and it’s strong enough now to last forever,” she said.

While council staff will use part of the building as offices, most of it will be public access space, with a variety of meeting rooms for hire.

The lime-washed brick walls will be festooned with art and it will also house resource centres for the city museum and multicultural services.

An official opening ceremony will be performed on May 23 when there will be an exhibition about the building and the refurbishment.

In total the library and School of Arts cultural precinct scheme has cost $12.3 million.



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