By Rowan Forster
The “heart” of Officer has been earmarked to receive a $380,000 cash injection, if a Guy Government is elected in November.
Councillors and politicians have traded barbs over the Officer Recreation Reserve’s proposed community hub for many years, with councillor Brett Owen tirelessly leading the fight for funding.
On Monday, the “lifesaving” pledge was announced by Gembrook MP Brad Battin and Shadow Sports Minister Danny O’Brien.
“This new facility will be vital in bringing the growing community of Officer together,” Mr Battin said.
“The Officer Recreation Reserve Committee has been working hard on behalf of the growing clubs to secure the future of local sports in Officer.”
Just days prior, Cr Owen described Cardinia Shire’s contribution to the Officer Recreation Reserve as “measly” during a sensational tirade directed at CEO Garry McQuillan.
His comments come as the expiration of the Federal Government’s $500,000 allocation continues to loom.User groups are so desperate to see the project succeed that they have forked up more than $200,000 from their own pockets to bankroll the development.
To date, the council has only committed $150,000 for the function centre.
Cr Owen – who labelled the completion of the Officer joint-use hub as a personal aspiration when he was elected in 2016 – fears the project could collapse.
“I’m concerned this project will fall over,” he said.
“The project has strong support by elected representatives at a state and federal level, including Member for La Trobe Jason Wood, who is contributing $500,000.
“If that money is not spent within the timeframe, it is lost.”
The current facility, developed in the 1970s, is reportedly weathered and outdated, lacking a disabled toilet and unable to cater for a wide range of community groups.
The deputy mayor relayed comments made by CEO McQuillan during a council briefing earlier that week.
“He (McQuillan) stated a $150,000 allocation is adequate considering another pavilion can be utilised and there is no financial advantage if council was successful in obtaining government funding; there are more worthy and financially advantageous projects,” Cr Owen recited.
“I was disappointed with these comments.”
A queue of dedicated community groups have already expressed their desire to use the facility, including the CWA, scouts, Officer Progress Association, Probus, Meals on Wheels, local schools and a range of sporting clubs.
It has been on the radar for more than a decade to date.
Secretary of the Officer Recreation Reserve Gareth Sheean welcomed Cr Owen’s tireless support, revealing the project is still “very much up in the air” due to a funding shortfall.
“One of the disappointing things for us is that the council CEO doesn’t believe it’s a project of merit,” he said.
“He sees it as more of a football club or a cricket club building.
“There is a real element of concern amongst user groups at this stage.”
The estimated cost of the project, if Cardinia Shire took responsibility for construction, would be approximately $2.5 million.
Mr Sheean claims labourers and contractors connected to the various community groups could develop the facility for roughly $1.4 million.
“The premise of this is that we aren’t seeking for this to be entirely council funded,” he said.
“We’re chipping in our own money and we want the local, state and federal government to contribute before it is too late.”
He also launched a Pick My Project application on behalf of the development, accruing 78 comments of support.
While Cr Owen estimated the ground serves over 800 sporting youth, CEO Mr McQuillan claims the junior players now use Heatherbrae Recreational Reserve.