Whether or not half a million dollars is available to rebuild the roof on the Old Bega Hospital has become a bone of contention between the state government and hospital supporters.
In January, Labor’s candidate for Bega Leanne Atkinson announced if she and her party won government at the state election they would supply half a million dollars to rebuild the roof.
In his response, Member for Bega Andrew Constance said “[t]he Old Bega Hospital Trust already has the funds for the roof”, but this statement was vigorously denied by member of the Old Bega Hospital Reserve Land Manager board Richard Bomford.
“He said ‘we have the money’. We’ll, we never have had the money,” Mr Bomford said.
“We’ve had an offer subject to conditions we have not been able to meet.
“The way Andrew said it you’d think we have half a million sitting in the bank account, but that’s not the case.”
He said in 2015, the state government offered the Friends of the Old Bega Hospital $500,000 to restore the roof, on the condition an extra $1.74million was found within a year to undertake restoration.
The funds had not been found a year later, but the offer was extended for an extra 12 months. In September 2017, the Old Bega Hospital Reserve Trust wrote to Deputy Premier John Barilaro requesting an additional 12 month extension on the offer, but as of January 2019 were yet to receive a response.
Mr Bomford said as far as he was aware, the $500,000 offer from the state government was off the cards.
“I don’t think there’s any excuse for what [Mr Constance] said,” Mr Bomford said.
“It’s an embarrassment to us and it makes us look like idiots.”
But on Friday, February 1, Mr Constance said the state government “gave a commitment to fund the roof” and if the money was not longer available it was “news to [him]”.
“If there’s an issue with that half a million I can go and fix that,” he said.
It was possible to overcome the expiration period on the offer, he said.
We’ve got one of the highest spending out of all the electorates when it comes to the arts.Andrew Constance
“We’re not going to offer half a million four years ago and then withdraw it on them,” Mr Constance said.
But what also had to be taken into account was the “moving goalposts”, he said, as while $500,000 was the original offer for the roof, an unsuccessful application made to the state government’s Regional Cultural Fund last year for restoration of the old hospital requested $2.4million.
“We’ve got one of the highest spending out of all the electorates when it comes to the arts,” he said.
He gave the examples of funding for Four Winds and $7.4million for the Theatre Twyford project in Merimbula.
Mr Constance said an idea worth discussing was to combine the efforts of the Old Bega Hospital supporters with those of the Bega Valley Regional Gallery’s in their campaign for redevelopment – a request by the BVRG for $3.4million was also denied under the Regional Cultural Fund – and move the gallery to the hospital’s site.
“Instead of the trust and council competing for the same dollar, why not work together and come up with something that would be amazing?” he said.
“Let’s have the discussion.
“If they want to rejuvenate the Old Bega Hospital site, that didn’t have insurance, that would make sense.
“Then everyone would be able to get what they want.”
The Old Bega Hospital was gutted by fire in 2004.