HUNDREDS got their first peek inside the multi-million Port of Sale Civic Centre redevelopment on Saturday, as crowds flocked to the building’s soft opening with cameras clicking and jaws dropping.
Finally unveiled, the $11 million Wellington Centre includes Sale public library, Gippsland Art Gallery, Wellington Visitor Information Centre, council chambers, broad use community spaces and a café.
The civic centre’s former disused courtyards have been covered in with sawtooth roofs and windows to create two immense, light-filled atrium areas, while an amphitheatre staircase showcasing local timber leads visitors from the port to the library, creating an enormous sense of space.
Gippsland Art Gallery now has six galleries, including a project area for contemporary Gippsland artists to use and a permanent display dedicated to cherished local artist, Annemieke Mein.
Artworks spill out of the gallery throughout the entire building, as children enjoy Leigh Hobbs’ ‘Arthur, the Man in the Blue Suit’ and a display by celebrated Gippsland children’s author and illustrator, Alison Lester, in a dedicated children’s section of the library.
Upstairs, people will be able to readily observe councillors making decisions in the new council chambers, also built from local timber, through its many windows, or indulge in the quiet of the library’s study spaces.
After wandering through the building, stickybeakers treated themselves to a coffee and a muffin at the shire’s newest café, Dock 70, and admired images of Wellington Shire’s attractions on the foyer’s big screen.
A known advocate for the arts, Wellington Shire mayor Carolyn Crossley said the day was a culmination of a 10-year-dream and hundreds of council meetings, and that she was “more than chuffed”.
“It’s gobsmacking isn’t it?” she beamed.
“This is the proudest moment I’ve had, really.
“It’s over-stretched my expectations at every stage, and to see it in its near completed stage … I think the community will have such civic pride as having this as their cultural centre.
“It encourages people to get engaged, even if you just come in for a coffee.
“The art gallery speaks to you, the digital screens show you how beautiful Wellington is; you suddenly are engaged with what is going on with the kids’ library ... it’s an all encompassing space.
“That’s what we want people to do — to engage, find, seek, ask, explore and enjoy.”
Cr Crossley said she hoped the building would encourage out-of-towners to stop and stay a while, after speaking to those who were already pulling over to use the port’s outdoor facilities.
“People were pulling over to stretch their legs, use the facilities, and were always commenting on how beautifully it was maintained, how there were areas for old and young to be involved, all those important things for a happy outdoor environment, and now we have this to drag them up,” she said.
Cr Crossley said the inclusion of the council chambers made the centre a democratic place.
“You can see into the chamber that is making decisions, and also having that here, instead of over in the business centre, [it shows] this is the people’s house,” she said.
The mayor said the decision to clear the stretch between the Wedge and the Wellington Centre meant people could see the port from the highway.
“The lawn encourages people to roll and kids to play and run, and [links] the Borun and Tuk tale of the Gurnai Kurnai people, as Sale was an important trade route, and important pathway,” she said.
“It’s for everyone.”
The Port of Sale precinct’s official opening and community celebration will be held on Saturday, January 27.