Hospital site’s rebirth

The City of Mount Gambier has breathed new life into a former hospital site while laying its turbulent history to rest.

Lush, green lawn sweeps towards the rim of the volcanic crater; new life in an ancient landscape that continues to evolve and adapt to changing community needs.

As children roll down the hill in fits of giggles and their families picnic close by, it’s difficult to believe that the southern slopes of South Australia’s largest regional city once had the reputation as one of the state’s biggest eyesores until the City of Mount Gambier stepped in, embarking on a bold rescue mission.

The eyesore in question was the former Mount Gambier Hospital, which had sat vacant on the Lake Terrace site since 1997 after the SA Government replaced it with a new facility on the city’s northern fringe.

A local builder transformed the nurse’s quarters into high-end residential apartments and gutted the old hospital building before on-selling the empty shell and surrounding land. The new owner had visions of luxury apartments and a retirement village, but the Adelaide-based company was placed into receivership before any of it got off the ground.

In the decade that followed, the prominent site that showed so much promise became a haven for the homeless, graffiti artists and rumoured ghosts.

Tenders were called for its purchase, and in November 2011, the City of Mount Gambier paid $1.4 million for the 49,000sqm site.

“We’ve copped a fair bit of criticism over the site and are happy it is now owned by the people of Mount Gambier,” said Mayor Steve Perryman.

Once the site was purchased, Council undertook an extensive community consultation process and received overwhelming support via a significant number of responses and submissions to return the area to parklands that complimented the adjacent Botanic Park Crater Lakes State Heritage Precinct.

The proposed site redevelopment plans involved turning the site into parklands incorporating lawns, trees, BBQ’s, seating, walking paths and the retention of the laundry building for community use.

A further $2 million was then spent demolishing the buildings, with the tender awarded to McMahon Services in conjunction with local contractors.  McMahon Services gave a commitment to recycle up to 98 percent of construction materials and to process the concrete rubble into site fill to be used to re-establish the original site contours and to also revegetate the site to
80 percent grass coverage by the end of the contract period.

The bulldozers fired up 16 years after the last patient was wheeled out of the hospital, and City of Mount Gambier engineering manager, Daryl Morgan, described it as the end of an era.

“While we acknowledge that there were so many significant moments that took place within those walls, we now need to look forward with a fresh, clear vision for this landmark site.”

Thousands of images were shot over the 15-week demolition period using a remote time-lapse camera mounted on the neighbouring apartment block.
The footage could be viewed via a live link, and has since been edited into a four-minute clip.

“It’s a very significant period for Mount Gambier in a historical sense but also with regards to our civic landscape, and we were very excited to be able to record and preserve this experience in such a unique way,” said Mount Gambier City Councillor Des Mutton.

The original hospital laundry, with its distinctive barrel vaulted ‘curved roof’ design, was saved and is now being transformed into a year-round social gathering space suitable for families, concerts and other special events.

“It’s a credit to council that they had the foresight to retain the building; it’s got some real architectural merit and integrity, but probably the most appealing part of the building is the panoramic views it captures over the city and crater lakes precinct,” said The City of Mount Gambier’s Manager of Regulatory Services, Michael Silvy.

“We’ve already got people ringing us up wanting to book it for weddings – the public are really starting to see the value in it.”