Kettering's £4.5m Cornerstone art gallery and library project needs community ‘support and understanding’, says councillor explaining extension leaks
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Efforts to make Kettering’s £4.5m heritage hub extension watertight will take time, the executive councillor in charge of the project has warned.
Last week this newspaper revealed that more than £1m would be needed to prepare for repairs to be made to the Collyweston roof on Kettering Library.
As specialist conservation wrapping will be required to prevent further water damage to the brand-new unusable extension, the public will be locked out.
Cllr Helen Howell (Con), North Northamptonshire Council’s (NNC) deputy leader and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism, asked for public ‘support and understanding’ following the revelation the flagship project would not open until more funds could be found.
She said: “Originally it had been anticipated that the site would be open early 2023, but due to unexpected delays and issues, opening the new venue has not yet been possible.
“North Northamptonshire [Council] are now working to rectify the issues, which include long-standing defects with the library roof that have further deteriorated, impacting the new extension.
“The issues with the rapidly deteriorating library roof have impacted the new build part of the project as water is travelling through the roof space from one building to the other. A decision has now been taken to ensure the library building is watertight before we open Cornerstone. We want to make sure we have all the issues resolved before we start exhibiting the collections to the public and welcoming visitors through the doors to what will be a fantastic community asset.”
Last week the flagship heritage project was described as a ‘complete disaster’ by the mayor of Kettering, Cllr Keli Watts.
In order to prevent more water damage to the 1904 library – and connected 1913 art gallery – the Grade II listed buildings will need to be wrapped by a specialist team using the correct tenting technique to ensure the building works do not cause irreparable damage. The project will need to be overseen by a conservation architect and surveyor. An estimate for the work has been given as a ‘conservative £1m’.
Cllr Howell acknowledged it had been a ‘difficult and complex’ project to extend the cultural hub and combine it with the existing building.
The extension has been completed providing an environmentally-controlled art store, two function spaces and a café. The art gallery has also been extensively improved to make it more accessible and to extend community facilities available – but none of the new spaces can be used.
Problems with the state of the library roof have existed for more than a decade.
Until 2021, Kettering Library was owned and managed by Northamptonshire County Council that had to be disbanded after it collapsed and was effectively declared bankrupt. Management of the Alfred East Art Gallery had been in the hands of Kettering Borough Council. The two former councils had joined forces to bid for government cash to improve the much-loved cultural and heritage hub.
Cllr Howell said: “The project has been incredibly ambitious and involved connecting a new-build facility onto buildings that are of historic significance. Great progress has been made to bring this part of the project to its conclusion. The original proposals, approved by Kettering Borough Council in 2019, for extensive work to the art gallery, did not include improvements to the library roof.
“Throughout the project, the team at Kettering Borough Council (and from April 2021, North Northamptonshire Council) have always been aware of the future issues with the library roof and the original plan was to seek funding for repairs/replacement after Cornerstone had been completed.
“The worsening issues with the library roof are now impacting on the new extension and mean that the whole building will need to be wrapped and made watertight before Cornerstone can open to the public. Due to operational factors, it has not been possible to do this whilst the building work was taking place.”
A council team has been tasked to find funds for roof repairs ‘as soon as possible’ starting with wrapping the building
Cllr Howell added: “Before repair and replacement works are carried out, the roof will be wrapped to make it watertight and once this has happened, Cornerstone can open. This will allow the team to have more of an indication of the work that is needed to replace the roof over the following months.
“This is a complex project and timelines and costs for the repair work required will not be fully determined until the internal roof space can be safely accessed and the design and specification for the full roof works completed. The works, once fully scoped, will go through the council’s capital approvals processes.
“We are working just as hard to make Cornerstone as successful [as Chester House Estate], and we are not afraid to invest in our cultural assets. Any money we need to spend now will pay dividends for many years to come and will benefit not only Kettering but the whole of north Northamptonshire.
"We would really appreciate the support and understanding from the community, as we work towards our end goal in bringing what will truly be a superb asset to life.”
In 2020 Kettering Borough Council’s executive committee members were given the breakdown of the works including £300,000 for the library roof, £800,000 for the Manor House Museum refurbishment and internal works, £163,000 for the Alfred East Gallery refurbishment and £1,610,000 for the extension and internal works. A budget of £867,000 had been set aside for the library’s internal refurbishment.