Time running out for music centre

By BELINDA SCOTT

TIME is running out for Coffs Harbour's flourishing music hub to find a new home.

The Coffs Harbour Conservatorium of the Arts is desperately searching for new, permanent premises.

Although the 'Con' has a lease on its present studios at Park Beach Plaza HomeBase until January 2009, the search has already been underway for more than a year and Conservatorium director Carol Hellmers is becoming increasingly anxious.

"We have outgrown the space and HomeBase needs to return the space to retail," Carol Hellmers said.

"We had 150 students in 2003 and we now have more than 600, including the schools program and we only have 300 square metres of space."

The city's popular regional conservatorium, which has 21 teachers, is one of the most successful in the state and one of Coffs Harbour's cultural drivers.

But it is also the only one in the state without a permanent home; the only one paying a commercial rent and the only one facing the termination of its lease.

Ms Hellmers wants a base which will allow the Conservatorium to grow with Coffs Harbour.

But the city's low-income demographic and its past as a poor fishing port mean there is no reservoir of historic public buildings which can be put to new use, as there is in most regional centres.

Ms Hellmers says they have presented detailed funding submissions on the options available to the State Government and have started their own building fund, but time is against them.

She is calling on the NSW Minister for Education and Training, John Della Bosca, to meet them and help them.

The Minister said the NSW Government did not have the responsibility for or capacity to underwrite the relocation of the Conservatorium and there was a Commonwealth regional funding program available.

Mr Della Bosca said the Department would continue to work with the Con to identify potential sites.

"But the conservatorium seems intent on acquiring a particular property in Bray Street which is a high-cost option," he said.

Ms Hellmer said their preferred option was the least costly of those selected and the Commonwealth program required a prior commitment from the State government.



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