There was a stunned silence at Monday night’s meeting of Cree Valley Community Council when a Dumfries and Galloway Council official delivered the shock news that the McMillan Hall would be shut for seven months for essential repairs.
The hall, in Newton Stewart’s Dashwood Square, is probably the best known and most used community facility in the Machars.
Karen Brownlie, the council principal facilities officer admitted “there was no easy way of saying this” before announcing the local authority had just discovered heath and safety concerns will force them to close the building to allow work on the stone facade of the hall, which was built in 1884. The work, which is estimated to cost over £300,000, will preserve what Ms Brownlie described as “a fantastic building”.
The hall will shut its doors on April 20, meaning popular annual events that use the hall such as the Galloway Pageant baby show and the Newton Stewart Flower Show will be forced to find a temporary new home. Ms Brownlie added that she “firmly believed” the council would be able to find accommodation for all the hall users elsewhere in other council run properties such as the Douglas Ewart High School, Penninghame and Minnigaff Primary Schools, Penninghame School House, the Merrick Leisure Centre and Minnigaff Pavilion.
When it was suggested this was a short-sighted move by the council in the light of their controversial decision to close of the Newton Stewart Community Centre to cut costs at the end of March, Ms Brownlie explained the community centre and the McMillan Hall were “separate projects” and this new development would not give the community centre an eleventh hour reprieve. “The community centre will still close”, she confirmed.
Realising that the McMillan Hall could be shut until the New Year, Cree Valley Community Council chairman John McNaught described the news as “a bombshell” and insisted the council kept the community council informed of where user groups were going so community councillors had the necessary information for members of the public.
Mid Galloway Councillor Alistair Geddes pushed for both a monthly progress report and an assurance that any extra costs incurred by user groups forced to move to new facilities would be met by the council and Ms Brownlie agreed.
As well as repairing and replacing stonework, there will be work inside the building to install a lift.
CVCC member Neil Dalrymple commented that this would be an ideal opportunity to install up generators in building to ensure there was always power if the McMillan Hall was used as a rescue centre as part of the community resilience scheme. As the hall was ideally situated for such as purpose for both the snowstorm of March 2013 and the flooding crisis of November 2012, community councillors and elected members agreed this was an excellent idea and the council officer agreed to investigate doing this.