Wexford Arts Centre is to undergo a major transformation in an extension and renovation project costing an estimated €1.5 million.
New plans have been unveiled by Wexford County Council Director of Services Eddie Taaffe after earlier proposals to refurbish the historic Cornmarket building were shelved for financial reasons during the recession.
A grant of 50% of the cost up to a maximum of €1 million has been committed by the Government with the other half coming from the local authority's capital programme budget.
Councillors were treated to a video 3-D preview of the plans before the project goes to public consultation in a few weeks under the Part 8 planning process covering Council developments.
A three-storey extension on the high-ceilinged two-storey building will see a new accessible entrance from the existing side of the premises which Mr. Taaffe described as 'a fabulous old building in the heart of town', albeit one with a number of issues.
On the ground floor, the 400 square metre extension project will provide a new modern double-height lobby with a balcony overlooking it, a lift, new staff and visitor toilets, a larger food preparation area for the cafe in the centre and an outdoor seating area.
There is a walkway on the first floor where administrative offices and staff rooms are also situated.
'The ceilings in the existing building are very high by modern standards and we will be able to provide three levels at the same height as the two that are there', said Mr. Taaffe.
It is hoped to have the Part 8 process completed by the end of this year with contractors moving on site in the second quarter of next year. It is estimated that construction will take about 12 months and the newly-renovated Arts Centre should be ready by early 2021.
The project was welcomed by public representatives with Cllr. Tom Forde saying 'well done, it looks fantastic'.
He asked if the building will be lit up at night to discourage anti-social behaviour and was told by Mr. Taaffe that lighting will be an important feature.
Cllr. David Hynes also congratulated those involved and asked if the concert area would be any bigger, in light of the imminent loss of Dun Mhuire Theatre in the town.
He was told that the size of the performance space won't change but there are plans to improve the seating arrangements.
Mr. Taaffe said one fifth of the green space beside the Arts Centre will be taken up by the extension as there is already a hard surface beside the premises that will be used.
'Well done, this is a long time waiting to happen. As a regular user of the Arts Centre, I'm aware that it is a very important space', said Cllr. Maura Bell.
'It's hugely welcome', said Cllr. John Hegarty, asking if the changes in plan were designed to compliment proposals for a cultural space in the Trinity Wharf development.
He was told that this was the case and the Arts Centre works are to address access, office and storage issues in the premises.
'It needs this lift to make it more welcoming and accessible to people', said Mr. Taaffe.
Cllr. Leonard Kelly said he looked forward to seeing it open and he ascertained from the Director of Services that 50% government funding has been committed and the Council's portion of the cost coming from the capital programme, will be linked to the local authority in a few months.
Cllr. Garry Laffan asked if the refurbishments would produce capacity for rental income and was told by Mr. Taaffe that the building is leased to Wexford Arts Centre and the extension will enhance the space which is sub-let to a cafe and there should be a greater income from that.
'There will be a greater seating area and it should help to sustain the financial capacity of the Arts Centre', he said.
Mayor of Wexford, Cllr. George Lawlor said it is a very historic building which was formerly the old Town Hall and it is important to make it more accessible to everyone.