STAFF from the Fremantle Arts Centre have claimed patrons were put at risk last week because a roof replacement involving asbestos removal has been poorly managed.
A last-minute decision to close the upper floors of one of the centre’s wings during the replacement has also thrown classes into chaos, they told the Herald.
Requesting anonymity, one staff member said contractors employed by the council to replace the abestos shingles had arrived on-site last week expecting the centre to be closed to the general public during the works.
“There was no one on-site from the City to supervise and liaise with contractors,” they said.
“FAC staff had to intervene as trucks and equipment were being moved across site in and amongst the general public with no supervision.”
They claimed Worksafe inspectors were called in because of the contractors’ concerns, but Fremantle council says that was only a standard review of the project’s safety management plan.
“This is standard process and there were no concerns raised by contractors regarding noncompliance,” an unattributed statement from the council said.
The staff member said the last-minute decision to close the upper floor of the north wing of the centre had created an administrative nightmare for staff.
“The team have been given two days to advise artists they must vacate their studios, students that their classes have been cancelled and tutors that they have lost their work,” they said.
“The full extent of impact and loss of work for staff and loss of income to the arts centre for the following months is unknown.”
The roof fiasco follows the recent closure of the centre’s cafe – a major PR disaster – and several staff have told the Herald it’s left them lacking confidence in the centre’s management.
“With the roof works and no cafe, who will come?”
They said the problems extend beyond the arts centre to the city’s admin centre, with “heads of key departments across the city resigning over the last 12 months, including the managers of community development, finance, arts and culture and procurement.”
The council’s statement said during planning minimising disruption to the centre was a priority, but the decision to close the upper floor was made “after further assessment … and to negate any possible risk.
“The Fremantle Arts Centre team have explored all possible options to avoid disruption to programing, artists and the community, including rescheduling or relocating activities wherever possible.
“However, there are unfortunately a small number of classes that will be unavoidably affected and will be unable to complete the remainder of their sessions for term 1.
“All students in these classes are being contacted today (Thursday), and will be provided with a refund on the remaining sessions in the coming days.
“While tutors at Fremantle Arts Centre are employed on
a casual basis, the City has committed to paying them for the remainder of their scheduled term 1 classes.”
The statement said previous roof replacement works were in a small area and completed in a short timeframe, making it easier to close the arts centre while they were being carried out.
“The final works about to commence are on a much larger area and will be undertaken in six stages, over several weeks.
“The City has engaged experiencede and specialist contractors to carry out this work to the highest possible standards, and is following the advice received with regard to operation of the site.”
BY STEVE GRANT