Our hall needs our help

by Sandi Miller
6th March 2023

NOT MANY people know that the Mechanics’ Institute Hall is a true community asset; it belongs to anyone and everyone lucky enough to live within a two-miles (3.2 kilometres) radius of the Hall.
And so it is up to us all to give “our hall” the care it has provided to the community over the years.
The Mechanics’ Institute in Warrandyte has provided a home for the arts for 144 years.
The present hall has been in use for 95 years — but the basic structure of the wooden building is now showing its age.
At a public meeting in 1986, the Warrandyte Mechanics’ Institute and Arts Association (WMIAA), also known as Warrandyte Arts, was given responsibility for the care of the hall, which they have done, and continue to do, admirably.
WMIAA member, David Tynan, spoke to the Diary in 2020 and said that traditionally, the Association had found funds largely from its theatre productions and from hiring the hall for community events.

“However, large expenses, such as improving the toilets, preventing the regular flood damage, and major rotting of wooden structures in our buildings, are beyond our modest budget.
“We have been very lucky to have forged an excellent relationship with the Warrandyte Community Bank, which has meant that we have been able to secure grant funding to refurbish the toilets and foyer area, and recently we have completed a major overhaul of our drainage so that future floods do not impact the buildings as severely as they have in the past,” he said.

Additional improvements are made each year, such as the installation of a toilet in the pottery studio, improved theatre lighting and digital sound and light equipment, a rear deck, and termite prevention work.
To date, the Bank has contributed $120,000 towards the maintenance and refurbishment of the Hall.
Grant Purdy, Secretary of the WMIAA, told the Diary the Mechanics’ Institute Hall has provided an essential and easily accessible venue for all forms of art and performance to the residents of Warrandyte and the surrounding community of Manningham.
The focus for the Association is on social well-being and not exclusive or artistic excellence: everyone is invited to join the activities, and all are welcome.
Today, the arts community associated with the hall is flourishing.
Most years, there are over 120 members of the association engaged in a range of artistic activities and groups, including Theatre, Craft, Music, Visual Arts, Pottery, Tai Chi, and the increasingly popular Repair Café.
The Hall is in almost constant use by those groups and by other hirers who hold meetings, exercise sessions, events, shows and social occasions.
Thousands of people each year use and enjoy the venue.
Warrandyte Arts and the Hall are incredibly valuable and well-recognised cultural assets to the local and wider community.
However, the building and its original construction methods are now beginning to deteriorate to the extent that its future is in jeopardy.
Moreover, modern-day safety requirements mean that some expensive refurbishment has become urgent — if this vital asset is to continue to be available to the Warrandyte and Manningham communities.
The first step is underway with renovations to the Bio Box to overcome many current safety hazards and minimise one of the major fire ignition sources for the wooden hall.
The Bio Box is the room where the technical crew operates lights and sound in the hall and houses all the technical equipment.
The crew need to be able to see the stage clearly and have enough room to lay out and operate sound desks, computer terminals, and keyboards.
The existing Bio Box is accessed via narrow wooden stairs at the back of the hall and takes up the central portion of a balcony.
The box is made of wood, and is currently not fire protected in any way.
Numerous holes in the floor, walls and ceiling of the room are not sealed to prevent the escape of smoke or fumes.
There is only one way in or out.
This work can take place because of a generous grant from Warrandyte Community Bank and donations from Rotary Club of Warrandyte Donvale, Warrandyte  Lions Club, Warrandyte Riverside Market, Warrandyte Community Association, and Ruby Tuesday jewellers, together with a sizeable contribution from WMIAA.

“But now we face an even bigger and more critical project — to stop the scissor action of the roof system pushing out the walls of the hall,” Grant said.

This is currently prevented by tie bars, which are reaching the end of their lives — and this will cost money — lots of it.

The Association has proposed two projects to alleviate the problem.
The first is to install four cranked beams to support timber trusses and replace the existing tie bars, which are struggling to prevent the wooden truss system in the roof from failing and pushing out the hall’s walls.
This is estimated to cost $32,750, including a contingency allowance.
Following that, to install a new lighting bar system with audio and data capability — hung from the new support beams, estimated to cost $19,000.
This leads, including project management time and auditing, to a total of $51,750 for the two interconnected projects.
Grant said WMIAA has already raised $20,000 through ticket sales from its 2020 theatre productions and other fundraising.

“And a $5,000 donation from Rotary has been added to the tally,” Grant said.
“With substantial financial and volunteer time contributions from WMIAA, the current shortfall in funding is around $25,000,” he said.

Given the hall’s popularity, the only quiet time for construction is in January/February, so delays in obtaining funding will imperil major works taking place over the summer of 2023/2024.

“The availability of a builder then is also a major source of uncertainty — achieving funding early will allow us to retain the builder.

So, time is of the essence.
WMIAA has set up a donations page on its website:
Any business donating $5,000 or more can have its logo featured on the fundraising thermometer in a coming edition of the Diary.
Give a little or give a lot — it will all go to help to ensure “our hall” continues to be a place we can all continue to enjoy long into the future.