MEREWETHER Surf Life Saving Club has unveiled long-awaited details of its proposed club upgrade, joining Dixon Park and Cooks Hill SLSCs in pushing to reinvent their premises.
Merewether club training officer Anthony Tietze said on Tuesday that the club was looking to raise $2.5 million to $3 million to refurbish its clubhouse, in a design that would extend the building to the south and to the road behind it, while leaving it at two storeys.
With Cooks Hill having begun stage one of a proposed $4.5 million upgrade and Dixon Park also looking for about $500,000 to improve its building, it leaves the three clubs on the one stretch of sand pursuing about $8 million to realise their dreams.
Hunter SLSC chief executive Rhonda Scruton said Stockton and Newcastle SLSCs were also looking to upgrade their premises, and the lifesaving movement was looking forward to Newcastle City Council releasing a draft version of a coastal buildings plan, which would help give clarity to the various surf clubs, in the coming months.
“It’s a question of money, but if we could get one club done up every year, or every second year, that would be our ideal situation,” Ms Scruton said.
Like Cooks Hill and Dixon Park, Mr Tietze said Merewether had grown in membership and found itself struggling to fit into ageing and outdated premises.
Mr Tietze said Newcastle’s EJE Architecture had done the design work and the next step was to get more detailed architectural and engineering design done, together with cost estimates, and to start fund-raising and applying for government grants.
He said the club had some money saved to take planning to the next stage.
“It may well take some years, all up, but if we had the money there we’d hope to start work by the end of the year,” Mr Tietze said.
Putting the club’s plan in context, Mr Tietze said the changing landscape at Merewether – primarily Merewether Surfhouse, Bathers Way, the ocean baths improvements and the recently completed sea wall – had all proven “incredibly popular”.
“The downside of these improvements – if indeed there is one – is that they tend to focus on the shortcomings of our clubhouse,” Mr Tietze said.
“These include a blank wall on the prime north-east aspect, congestion of Bathers Way at the front of the clubhouse, a dead area at the rear of the building, a ‘rabbit warren’ feel inside the building, outdated toilets, change rooms and showers – both for the club and the public – and a lack of disabled facilities, including access to the first-floor area, which includes the club’s function room, which we hire out,” Mr Tietze said.
He said a level “grand entry” from Henderson Parade behind the building would provide disabled access to the first floor.
The north-east corner of the clubhouse – the view the public sees when they approach the club from nearby John Parade – would be opened up at its “blank wall” end into separate upstairs and downstairs entertainment areas, with solid concrete pillars on the ground floor and a sloping metal roof, supported by an angular metal frame, over the first floor.
“It’s a big visual improvement in that it’s not such a solid mass to look at,” Mr Tietze said.
He said that while the changes to the building were “significant”, a “common-sense” approach had been maintained to use the existing structure and its “grid lines” wherever possible.
The existing cafe could be “enhanced”, with potential for a second food outlet.
The rebuild would also include new sets of shower and toilet facilities. In line with the recent refurbishment at Nobbys, the new facilities would have individual cubicles for changing and showering.
Ms Scruton said Newcastle council owned the buildings housing the five surf clubs between Stockton and Merewether and she hoped to see the remaining four follow Nobbys by signing long-term leases giving security to both sides.
She said the strategic plan would also show the clubs how much money might be in the council budget, and how much they would have to raise themselves to upgrade their buildings.
Cooks Hill SLSC president Richard Hermens said its upgrade had cost about $1.8 million so far, including about $700k from the sale of a house bequeathed by life member Ozzie Higham.
Asked about the long-term futures of the clubs, a council spokesperson said the council was working on a draft Coastal Buildings Implementation Plan, which included upgrades SLSC facilities along the Newcastle coastline.
A date had not been set for its public release.
Dixon Park SLSC president Paul Murray said the club had received $350,000 late last year in an SLSC facility grant, and had raised $150,000 itself.