Struggle to give museum new life

A FLAGSHIP scheme to create a Creative Industries centre spiralled to more than £6.9m – more than £250,000 over budget – after a catalogue of unforeseen setbacks ranging from bats to buried animal heads, a report has revealed.

On Tuesday, Scarborough councillors will be urged to draw a line under the scheme to transform the resort's former Woodend Natural History museum by signing off on the final cost of 6,951,920.

That is 254,920 more than originally budgeted for – leaving a shortfall that will have to met from the authority's general fund for building projects, leaving less in the pot for other schemes.

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When work on the Grade Two listed former home of the Sitwell literary family started in June 2006, the main building was expected to be complete by June 2007.

In fact, it was not handed over to the Creative Industries Trust until April 2008, after a string of delays that started not long after workmen first set foot in the old museum.

Although two bat surveys had shown no bats, Pipistrelle bats – a protected species – were discovered roosting above the Sitwell Rooms, delaying demolition work, which then had to be carried out slowly by hand so as not to disturb the bats.

Then contrary to previous site inspections, Japanese knotweed was found: a ferocious plant that can grow through road surfacing and concrete floors.

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It had to be cleared, treated as hazardous waste for disposal, and required the reinforcement of the basement to prevent further invasions.

The excavations into the basement required a boundary wall to be shored up. Then the piles failed and the wall collapsed, causing more delay.

Historical maps and plans of the site showed only an Ice House.

However, once on site the excavations uncovered a significant amount of unknown underground structures, forcing an archaeological investigation.

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Some stuffed animal heads were unearthed which had been buried underground in the 1950s and contained asbestos. A two-week stoppage was called while they were removed.

There were also difficulties finding labour and materials and delays due to bad weather over the summer of 2007, the wettest for more than 20 years.

The roof was to be put on over summer when the weather would normally be dry. But the rain led to delay in the roofing, basement flooding, and other damage, plus some parts of

the building were in a worse condition than surveys had suggested.

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The scheme was also on a tight budget which led to problems getting builders to do the work when the country was in the grip of a house-building boom.

But the finished project created 32 workspaces, eight artists' studios, a large centre for-start-up businesses to grow, a gallery for the Crescent Arts group, and three meeting areas, including the retained Sitwell room.

There was also a large training room for Scarborough Museum Trust's education programme, linked to the Rotunda project, a museum store, laboratory, area to preserve new artefacts and offices to run Scarborough Museum Trust.

Head of regeneration Paul Elliott said: "The completed centre is a huge success and is operating much better than business plan expectations.

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"As with any project in which an exceptionally old building is being renovated and extended, it was extremely complex and carried a large amount of inherent risk."

Some of this had been foreseen, and the council had set

out to run a tight ship, inclu-ding employing a specialist

consultant team and having a steering group, including councillors and museum officials, oversee the project on a monthly basis.