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By Rowan Forster

The development of the $7 million Emerald Hills Hub has been revealed as the most contentious project in Cardinia Shire’s history – requiring three times more community consultation than any other project.

Mayor Collin Ross, Councillor Jeff Springfield and Federal MP Jason Wood spruiked a major construction milestone on Thursday, revealing the facility is approximately nine months from completion.

Emerald Hall, a cornerstone of the town for more than a century, has now been completely demolished.

Despite negotiations dragging on for over a decade, community groups remain at odds over the “desecration” of the cherished building.

University of the Third Age (U3A) Emerald president Mal Bowmaker acknowledged community concerns with the state-of-the-art facility, but said it would ultimately be a win for retirees undertaking life-long learning.

“We’re all really pleased that the development is going ahead,” he said.

“Not all members are supportive of the design as it’s a very modern building and some of our members would prefer something not-so-modern.

“In terms of the facility and the layout of the rooms, it’s going to be an absolute blessing.”

The Emerald-based group Trust in Democratic Engagement (TIDE), formed in response to Cardinia Shire’s hub proposal, continues to oppose the plans.

“Someone said to me that the word progress should be redefined in cases like these as a lack of imagination for history and the creation of legacy buildings for politicians,” Julie Buxton, from TIDE, said.

“The original plan for this building (Emerald Hall) was for it to be mostly retained, but be given a full refurbishment and added onto to create more useable space.

“That would have been a great outcome in my mind.”

Cardinia Shire forked up almost $5 million for the hub, with the federal and state governments chipping in $1.5 million each.

Mayor Collin Ross said the extensive community consultation was worthwhile if it meant Emerald residents would embrace the new facility.

“We wanted them to take ownership of it, so that’s why it had three times as much consultation as any other project,” he said.

“It’s better that they buy in, rather than drive past and don’t embrace it.

While Cr Ross acknowledged that some were still displeased with the final plan, he said it was “as positive as (council) could hope for”.

“It will provide so much more space for community groups to function and get involved,” Cr Ross added.

“It’s been a long time in the making, but it’s finally coming along.”

It is expected many community groups, including the Men’s Shed of about 50 members and the U3A of an estimated 330 members, will take advantage of the new facilities.

Latrobe MP Jason Wood said the Emerald Hills Hub had been “a bit contentious”, but was pleased to see construction well underway.

“There’s going to be so many groups using this state-of-the-art facility,” he said.

“It’ll add to the area and really support this passionate community.”

The project is expected to be complete in June, 2019.

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