History of the YMCA’s Management of the Community Facility at 11 Rutherford Crescent, Ainslie, ACT
The existing building at 11 Rutherford Cres, Ainslie was established in the 1940s in a manner consistent with the Garden City design ethos expressed across Ainslie. The building was a controversial response to an identified need for essential support to the surrounding community and incorporated into the tranquil Bill Pye Park. The design of the building, the siting of the building and the Garden City ethos within which it was developed are significant examples of the social history and development of Canberra. The building should be considered for heritage listing and saved from demolition. The proposal to save a garden shed to demonstrate the social significance of the site is an insufficient response to the significance of the site.
The Community Facility in Bill Pye Park was built in the early 1940s for childcare services. A newspaper report at the time considered this development controversial as these services might encourage women out of the house. The site operated for decades providing childcare services and a place for the community to meet. The building captures much of the social change history from mid-century Ainslie.
The YWCA was given a lease over the site in 1993 and childcare services continued for a number of years. Sometimes the gifting of ownership can have unintended consequences. The Not for Profit Organisation leased the facility to manage it on behalf of the community for the purpose of providing a childcare centre and community activity centre. Because they delivered a service to the community the lease required them to pay 5 cents per annum and no rates for 99 years. This is a concessional lease and is the title underlying many sites across Canberra used by sporting clubs, churches, retirement villages and community halls, etc.
The YWCA states that in 1993 they gained ownership of the site through a ‘commercial’ transaction at market rates. To achieve market value for the land it has to be taken to market through an auction process where there are other bidders. It appears that the YWCA was the only bidder and the site was valued at a concessional rate with the strict purpose of operating a childcare centre and community activity centre. The price paid for this valuable piece of land we believe is in the range 5 cents to $90,000. The YWCA is not willing to divulge the amount paid.
A few years later the YWCA decided that they no longer wished to deliver the service to the community despite the lease purpose clause. As the owner they believed that they could make this decision without consulting the community. They went from non-government service provider to landlord and decided to rent the community facility to another organisation for office space. They could have given the facility back to the community at this point and discussed alternative uses that would benefit the community.
Twenty years later the YWCA has decided that the community facility is underutilised and should be demolished. Again they had an opportunity to give the facility and land back to the community and engage in a consultation process about potential uses. Studies have indicated that there is a need for additional facilities in the area. Instead they were really lucky to receive a grant from the ACT Government’s Social Housing Innovation Fund with a funding program with the specific title seeking bids from ‘Lessees with underutilised community facilities land’. We don’t know how many bidders were in that grants market but suspect it was only the YWCA. From this program they have receive a $125,000 grant to help demolish the existing community facility and build a medium density social housing development. The YWCA has also received a sizeable grant from the Commonwealth to assist with this development. The site has recently been valued at over $2 million if used for residential development. Some organisations really know how to play the game. Not bad for a non-profit organisation that had revenue of $15 million last year mainly for delivering childcare services in other organisation’s facilities. While they might deliver quality funded services across Canberra they are bulldozing the local Ainslie community.
The local community has a much grander vision for keeping this site with its potential to bring people together, grow the urban environment and enrich neighbourhood networks. Community facilities are a bit like native forests they need protection, they need to be valued and have active management to survive. We can’t afford to buy them back once they’re gone.