Our Vision Continued
Examples of similar projects
Visits to similar examples of restoration and regeneration projects should be undertaken to provide the necessary information and shared experience to enable a realistic plan to be drawn up.
Examples could include:
- Cloughjordan Ecovillage in County Tipperary
- Christiania in the Danish city of Copenhagen (an intentional community of about 850 to 1,000 residents, established in 1971, based in and around a former army barracks covering 34 hectares, and now a major tourist attraction)
- A sustainable energy community on Inishmór, Aran Islands; and similar centres in other European countries. read more here, and here.
Other examples more relevant to the restoration aspect of the vision include:
- Kilmainham Gaol, which has been restored to become a significant tourist attraction and location for concerts and other events.
- Sligo Gaol, which had been partly demolished (with the loss of some important buildings) while in the ownership of Sligo County Council, but is now undergoing restoration by the Friends of Sligo Gaol with financial support from The Heritage Council. Friends of Sligo Gaol is a non-profit community group of volunteers (similar to our committee) with an interest in Sligo Gaol and its place in the history and heritage of County Sligo. 2018 marked the 200th anniversary of the gaol; and on 7th – 9th September this year, Friends of Sligo Gaol held a very successful weekend conference. A feasibility study to examine the future of Sligo Gaol is planned. Further information on www.sligogaol.ie.
- Dundalk Gaol in County Louth. The men’s wing, which was presented in 2008 by Louth County Council to Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Éireann to house the Oriel Cultural Centre, is now a concert and music education venue; the women’s wing is the Louth County Archive, and the former Governor’s House continues to serve as a Garda station since 1945.
Throughout its long-existence as an army barracks, the Mullingar Barracks supported a military community, bringing employment and skills to the town and environs, through its requirement for supplies of products and services.
The existing uses and activities in the former Barracks are compatible with the proposed re-development and rejuvenation of the Barracks as a community centre; and the current users should be guaranteed a place in the new centre, and should be given an opportunity to participate, as a right, in determining the character and vision for the regeneration project.
Our vision is for a Centre which will contribute socially, environmentally and educationally to the town, and which will be a hub for community-based innovation, serving the needs of the town and the county.
The activities and uses of the rejuvenated facility should provide for the continuous presence of people within it throughout the entire day, to ensure that people will want to live, work or stay in the Columb Barracks Centre, in a safe and people-friendly environment where they will find a sense of community and shared values; and, if they are visitors or tourists, will find a hospitable welcome.
Taken as a whole, the activities and uses should contribute financially to the up-keep, maintenance and future improvements of the Centre’s basic infrastructure and facilities.
The combined activities and uses should celebrate and encourage the many diverse Irish, European and other cultures which Mullingar currently hosts and should take particular interest in the promotion of the Irish language, while also respecting other languages used in the town of Mullingar.
As far as possible, all activities and uses should be energy efficient, should exchange energy where possible, and should utilise renewable energy sources to the maximum extent, avoiding any dependence or reliance on fossil fuels.
All activities and uses should generate little or no waste, and should engage in re-use, repair and recycling; so that the Centre may become an example of the Circular Economy in action.
All activities, taken together, should be cost-neutral to the Department of Defence; i.e., the Department should not be required to financially support the Centre’s activities or the maintenance of its infrastructure.
Vehicle ingress to the Centre should be minimised as far as possible, so that only essential vehicles, or those owned by residents, should be allowed to drive or park within the Centre’s boundary; but, if necessary, a dedicated parking area could be provided near the entrance to the Centre so as to avoid vehicles travelling through an essentially pedestrian-friendly and cycle-friendly area.
Actions to accomplish the vision and principles
A detailed survey of all social and community activities on-going in the Columb Barracks Centre; these activities should be described, with information on the number of people involved, what they do, their needs and hopes, and a description of the spaces or buildings which they currently use.
A detailed survey by a heritage or conservation architect of all buildings and structures in the Columb Barracks Centre; reporting on their condition, historical and conservation importance, and on the essential work or repairs needed to ensure their survival and future use, and to bring them to the standard necessary to comply with current Health and Safety Regulations.
A detailed survey of all existing physical services in the Centre; e.g., water supplies, heating, telecommunications, etc.
Prepare a list of potential funding sources which could grant-aid or otherwise financially support any or all of the three actions described above.
Determining what buildings are best suited for various uses
This is an important part of the plan: it will depend on a detailed survey of the existing buildings and other structures, and on agreed existing and proposed uses. Some changes may be necessary; where, for example, some existing activities may have to move from one building to another, and trade-offs may be necessary if it is not possible to include all desirable future activities.
One of the first tasks will therefore be to undertake a survey of buildings and structures, initially using the drawings currently available, and digitising these drawings to provide a working CAD model of the entire barracks area.
What structures or buildings could be removed or deconstructed
It will be necessary to ensure the protection of historic buildings; and, as a matter of principle, every effort will be made to keep and re-use as many buildings and other structures as possible. In total, there are some 17 buildings and other structures in the Barracks which are listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH); and some of these are further protected by being included on the Record of Protected Structures (RPS) in the Westmeath County Development Plan.
The Department of Defence, as the current owner of the Barracks, is under a legal obligation to ensure that none of the protected structures, nor any element of one or more of these protected structures that contributes to its special interest, or to the historic interest of the Barracks as a whole, is endangered through harm, decay or damage, whether over a short or long period, through neglect, through direct or indirect means. This protection applies to all parts of the structure that contribute to its character and special interest, including its interior, surrounding land or ‘curtilage’. The Columb Barracks Restoration and Regeneration Committee will work closely with the Department of Defence to ensure that this protection is achieved.
The Committee is aware of the requirement to consult with Westmeath County Council to ensure that, when drawing up a master plan for the restoration and regeneration of the Barracks, any proposed changes to protected structures, or any alteration of elements that make a structure architecturally or historically significant, are not lost or heavily modified. The Committee is also aware that any works which would affect the character of a protected structure, or any element of the structure that contributes to its special interest, is likely to require planning permission.
While conservation and restoration of buildings are our primary aims, there may also be a necessity or advantage in removing or deconstructing (but not demolishing) some smaller structures: e.g., sheds, more recent buildings, etc.; provided it is reasonably sure that the structures to be removed are of no value or interest.
Leasing of buildings
A possible way to secure finance for improvement of some of the buildings will be to lease them to suitable tenants on a long-term (50-year or 99-year-term) lease which will give the lessee an incentive to improve and upgrade the building, thereby by increasing its value and utility to the lessee and to the community as a whole.
If the lessee wishes to surrender the lease on the building, then it should be offered first to the Barracks Centre trustees at a market price to be determined by an independent valuation. In that way, the Barracks Centre will be able to obtain and accumulate some preliminary finance through the sale of leases while not being burdened by the costs of initially upgrading the buildings, which would have to be done if they were to be rented out on long-term or short-term rental.
When a leased building becomes available through the surrender of the lease, the Columb Barracks Centre trust would have first option to purchase the improved building, to retain ownership, or to lease it for a further period.
Wastewater treatment and disposal
Instead of simply adding to the burden of the town’s wastewater treatment and disposal system, consideration should be given to on-site wastewater treatment by an appropriate system such as a small constructed wetland which would additionally serve as a working example of this sustainable technology.
Finance & costs
Based on the information gathered in the previous steps of plan formulation, it will be necessary to draw up estimates of costs for all of rejuvenation and improvement activities and to investigate sources of grants and other forms of financial support. Clearly, without such support, it would be very difficult for the overall plan, or any part of it, to become a reality.
One of the primary tasks will therefore be to explore appropriate ways of obtaining the necessary funds; either through grants, donations, or a combination of these. The Columb Barracks Restoration and Regeneration Committee will therefore make an application to the Charities Regulator for charitable status for the purpose of advancement of community development, urban regeneration, education, and the promotion and advancement of environmental sustainability.
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