Demolition fears for historic drill hall

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) fears it could be evicted from its premises and the historical building demolished after the state election.

The Drill Hall at 239 A’Beckett St is owned by the State Government but is on a list of properties which could be sold.

The society says it has been given a single-year’s extension on its lease until the end of the financial year and has been told the building would not be sold as long as Matthew Guy remains planning minister.

“We interpret this as meaning possible sale of the building after the election,” the society said in a letter to supporters.

The hall was built in the 1930s in art deco style for the Australian Army’s medical corp. It was sold by the Federal Government to private interest and was later purchased by the Victorian Government. In 1988 it was added to the Victorian Register of Historic Buildings. The society has had a number of short-term leases on the building since 2000.

In February the society wrote to the State Government seeking a 21-year peppercorn lease but says it has had no response. In contrast, society president Prof Don Garden says the State Opposition has promised to keep the building. The society was to conduct a meeting at the Drill Hall on September 30 to rally support for its cause.

“The building is owned by the Victorian Government but is under threat of asset disposal – the likely result being demolition of this heritage listed building – unless an alternative arrangement can be made,” it said in its letter to supporters.

In its submission to the Government, the society points out that it can’t undertake works to preserve its vast historical collection while it has no security of tenure. It also says work by its volunteers is valued at $11 million per year. It outlines an ambitious program to turn the building in “Melbourne’s History House”. If successful, it offers to ramp up its participation with the community.

“Whilst this building presents problems – the RHSV and its co-lease holder – principally the Victorian Concert Orchestra – are a good fit for the building,” the society says in its letter to supporters.

“Between us, on a weekly basis, we make this building accessible to several hundred Victorians participating in the arts and history.”

Planning Minister Matthew Guy chose not to respond.

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