A public meeting to rally support for keeping the Mullumbimby Hospital site in community hands kicked off its campaign last Thursday.
Around 100 locals attended the town’s civic hall for the meeting, organised by the Mullumbimby Hospital Action Group, to hear the various options the site could be used for when the hospital is vacated early next year.
Construction for the new Byron Central Hospital is in full swing and set to open in March next year, leaving a vacant site and buildings at Mullumbimby.
But locals fear the site could be sold off for private use and the community, which has for around 100 years given much money and fundraised for hospital facilities, will miss out.
While health authorities say no decision has been made on the future of the site and that the public will be consulted, the move to demolish the old hospital building, and newer maternity and accident/emergency wings, has many alarmed.
The health department says it wants to use the money from the sale of the site to pay for the asbestos demolition.
But some members of the action group say asbestos contamination is not an issue and the contentious plan is just an excuse to tear them down to make the site more attractive to investors.
Others would be happy to see the site eventually used for affordable aged-care housing or similar facility, perhaps a crisis centre for domestic violence, and some youth or disability services.
All options are on the table and the group is urging locals to get involved and to sign a petition soon to circulate.
Former carpenter Alan Wilson attended the meeting and told Echonetdaily it would be far cheaper to fix the roof of the accident/emergency building than to ‘knock the whole building down just to remove the asbestos’.
Mr Wilson did the carpentry work on the A&E extension to the hospital in 1988 when asbestos was first discovered in the roof of the original hospital building which was opened up to connect to the A&E wing.
‘The asbestos was fine. It was sprayed onto the under side of the tin roof as they did to insulate buildings from the heat and cold back then,’ he said.
‘It’s contained in the roof with two ceilings below. The first ceiling stopping the asbestos is the original made from plaster of Paris, and after the asbestos was discovered, a second false ceiling was put in made from gyprock.
‘It would be far cheaper to fix the roof as is than to knock the whole building down just to remove the asbestos,’ said Mr Wilson.
Action group member David Bradbury is one of the few voices not favouring the demolition, saying the asbestos threat behind it does not warrant knocking all buildings down.
Drug rehabilitation facility
‘Personally I’d like to see included some drug-addiction facility, because there is nowhere in the shire other than the Buttery (a great facility but hopelessly long waiting list for locals to get into) for drug-affected young people to go,’ Mr Bradbury told Echonetdaily.
‘The ice epidemic is only going to get worse. We need a local facility where addicts can detox and get serious hands-on counselling and stay a while as they sort themselves out,’ he said.
‘It’s horrific out there for young people struggling with drug addiction and nowhere to go,’ he said.
‘Ultimately whether the hospital stands or falls is for the community to decide. And what to do with the building or land after that should be a democratic community based decision. Not for Macquarie Street or senior Lismore health bureaucrats.’
Mr Bradbury is cynical about the future of the site.
‘It has taken us forever to get the new Byron hospital. So why would the state government build us a state-of-the-art old folks home or shelter for women victims of domestic violence?
‘The land is mega-rich for housing developers. Four acres in the edge of town. And the state wants that money.
‘To destroy a perfectly good building now which has rooms and wards and toilets and showers all working and in good shape is irrational in my book.
‘The interior walls (the hospital was originally build so it could take a second storey I’m told – so it has solid foundations) could be modified and it could be an up and running concern within a short time.
‘Local builders and tradies who now travel to Sydney for work could be employed to renovate the existing building.
‘The asbestos card was used to argue the Mullum Civic Hall should be totally destroyed and start from the ground up.
‘Fortunately that idea was dropped and we have an internal guts of the Civic Hall which still serves good purpose with the sense of heritage and past generations who built it.’