“The most exciting project since Armidale developed the university will be launched in the Town Hall on November 17,” says Judith Ross-Smith, chair of The Armidale Dumaresq Civic Precinct committee, which aims to revitalise the heart of the city.
That is the scope of the project?
We plan to build an integrated cultural precinct in the civic centre of Armidale. It comprises a new library, designed for the area beside the Town Hall and a performing arts centre, to be built on the site of the current library. These two buildings will, together with the existing Town Hall, the Council chambers and the Folk Museum, create a centre within the Armidale CBD that will attract visitors and bring much needed custom to local businesses.
What will it look like?
It will transform Cinders Lane. This really is the Cinderella of the CBD, with ugly rear views of buildings and an untidy car park. The new library will look stunning, with an elegant combination of wood and glass, designed by specialist library architects, Hamilton Wilson of Brisbane.The surrounds are to be landscaped with pathways between trees and grass – and more car spaces provided underground. Paved surfaces where now there is rough tarmac will make this area the place to be.
What about the performing arts centre?
We have a draft design, which includes a 500 raked seat theatre with customised acoustics and a sprung stage for dance and a 120 seat flexible space, suitable for intimate music, drama and dance. It has been drawn by PTW, Sydney architects, in conjunction with local firm Magoffin and Deakin, as part of a feasibility study paid for by a $20,000 grant from ADC. Tenders must be called for final plans, but the committee will ensure the building is compatible with the heritage nature of the area and the modern aspect of the library. Personally, I am excited, because in 1862 the newly formed ‘Armidale Amateur Dramatic Society’ staged the very first theatre performance here in a theatre behind the Wellington Inn – now Tatt’s Hotel. By 1866, a stage had been added to the School of Arts (now the Folk Museum), and plays and concerts were presented there. As I said, we are bringing back the heart of Armidale.
You said ‘integrated’. What do you mean?
The two new structures will be linked by corridors to the Town Hall, increasing the area’s flexibility. The performing arts centre will have conference facilities and the Town Hall renovated to improve its functionality. An exciting aspect of the concept is its capacity to become a conference centre as well. We expect a conference of up to 1,000 people could be accommodated in the complex.
Tell us about the committee …
The Armidale Dumaresq Civic Precinct committee (ADCP) is a community based group working within the Council’s terms of reference and code of conduct, with representatives from the Friends of the Library and Armidale Regional Performing Arts (ARPAC) committees. The RSL is very much involved, as the library is a War Memorial. Steve Widders represents the Aboriginal community; there are three Councillors and five members of the community.
How would you describe this committee?
In a word, ‘stellar’! I have a committee of dedicated, committed, visionary people, all of whom are successful members of the community and from a wide range of interests and talents. They are business people, academics and other professionals with experience, ‘know-how’ and proven ability to get things done. Our aim is to raise funds for and supervise the completion of the precinct and to keep the community aware of the project and its progress.
How will you raise the funds?
Here is where we are going to have to ‘think outside the box’, as we target specific people and organisations. We certainly expect community members to be excited by the project and support us in any way they can, but we intend to explore additional sources. We must raise around $15m in order to attract government funding, so we are consulting with our local members, who are enthusiastic about this project.
Do you have a deadline?
A goal is a ‘dream with a date’, which is why, for the first time in Armidale, there is a serious and determined start on this project. As long ago as 1950, the then President of the Arts Council, Mr Norman Gould, said to a meeting of Armidale business people, “I have a dream that Armidale, the Athens of the north, will one day be a centre for the arts with its own theatre”. He saw it as an ‘industry’ for Armidale consistent with its investment in education. Armidale is now NSW’s Third City of the Arts, and we expect our civic centre to be ready within a few years.
And the public meeting?
The ADCP committee invites all members of the community to come to the Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday, November 17. The program includes introducing the committee, presenting and discussing the concept and launching the fundraising drive. Plans are in hand for displays in the foyer to show how the new library will enhance the area – and showcasing the wide variety of performing arts in Armidale.
What skills do you bring to the committee?
Everyone is probably aware of my work (as Judith Lamb), in heading the committee that raised the funds to build ‘Ningana’. Over many years in Armidale, my activities have had a fairly high profile. They include establishing and managing businesses in the CBD, which led to my election as the first female president of the Chamber of Commerce. I have been a journalist, travel writer, and published a book on theatre in Armidale. I managed the University Co-Op Bookshop for eleven years and helped run the Armidale Biennial Arts Festival that won a NSW government Award for Excellence. For my service club, Zonta, I have held executive roles at local and district level and as vice chairman of the international Public Relations Committee. In 1992 I received an Australian award (OAM) for ‘services to the community’.