Some 5 per cent of council owned properties, including a preschool, playgroup, counselling service and the town hall will be reclassified in a bid to fund the new $22 million council chambers in Gordon.
Ku-ring-gai Council’s $22 million acquisition of the 828 Pacific Highway property could come at the cost of Gordon Community Preschool, Lifeline crisis support service, Culworth Ave carpark in Killara and Ku-ring-gai’s largest playgroup at Pymble House. These sites have been described as “under-utilised council assets”.
In 2013 former Ku-ring-gai Mayor, Elaine Malicki, broke the voting deadlock by wielding her Mayoral casting vote to overrule five councillors who opposed the reclassification of 23 parcels of community land to operational land.
Ku-ring-gai Mayor, Jennifer Anderson, herself a councillor in 2013, voted in favour of the reclassification and stands by Malicki’s decision to push through the vote last year.
“The council voted the current course of action, which is to sell council assets to fully fund the purchase rather than increasing council’s debt liability or reducing the levels of services provided to the broader community,” Anderson said.
“The council is not selling off preschools or counselling services, it is in the process of reclassifying a number of council owned sites from community land to operational land. Reclassification is a lengthy and detailed process that involves a public exhibition and a public hearing with an independent chair.”
The reclassification process does not automatically mean the properties listed would be sold for development.
However, the site of Gordon Community Preschool in Park Avenue, Gordon, which has 148 students and employs 10 staff, has been earmarked for high-density residential development.
Preschool director, Felicity Barclay, said the preschool currently has a lease expected to expire in 2016. While it appears the preschool may be living off borrowed time, Barclay said the council has promised to notify her at least six months prior to a move.
“Before the lease was granted we were working in absolute uncertainty. After a long community supported campaign the council told us that if we did have to relocate they would definitely find us a suitable, alternative premises,” Barclay said.
While Barclay has pledged to work with the council if her community preschool is relocated she said the council’s updates concerning the future of her preschool are irregular at best.
“We haven’t heard anything else this year in relation to our campaign to keep our preschool at its current location. But we would still want to be intimitely involved with the council if a move was to happen,” Barclay said.
“We want to stay where we are and we’ve been overwhelmed by all of the community support.”
However, a report released in 2010 by the Division of Local Government said staff amenities and the council’s office environment was not up to standard.
“The need to replace or renew ageing infrastructure is a key issue to be addressed by council, particularly given the prospect of having to serve a larger population with different needs … some work areas appear to be very crowded and staff amenities we observed are old and not of a standard one might expect to see in a modern office environment,” the report states.
Anderson believes the current Ku-ring-gai Council administration building is falling into disrepair.
“The current chambers site is at full capacity and due to its age and poor condition it is costly to maintain and in need of significant upgrading. The building has become a financial liability and it would not be economically viable to spend money upgrading it,” Anderson said.
“The building leaks when it rains, the air conditioning and lifts require replacement and it lacks disability access.”
While some members of the community want to see improved council facilities, others have vowed to fight the reclassification of council owned land.
After a long running campaign by Citizens Against Reduced Parking at Killara Railway (CARPARK), the group won a small victory last week when, under significant community pressure, the council unanimously decided to sell a portion of the site to Transport for NSW.
Following a petition which collected over a thousand signatures and a valuation report that estimated the carpark to be worth between $12 million and $16 million, the council’s decision means the land will continue to operate as a carpark, albeit under different ownership.
“This will mean guaranteed parking for residents and commuters at Killara station, which residents consistently tell us they want,” Anderson said.
However, with 23 parcels of community land set aside for reclassification, parents and staff at Gordon Community Preschool are worried about whether their children’s preschool will survive the reclassification.
“A lot of parents are concerned about what is happening. Parents are looking ahead three or four years so they need to know what will happen,” Barclay said. “We hope the council has a change of heart in relation to our future.”