There have been many mutterings locally about the apparent lack of progress at the Pavilion, a full 18 months since it closed for a multi-million pound redevelopment.
The frontage still looks run-down, with rusting windows, partially wrapped in white bandaging, behind fences denoting a building site, seemingly abandoned by an earlier work-force.
A tour of the building, however, immediately reveals these criticisms to be well wide of the mark
The Pavilion redevelopment is part of Argyll and Bute Council’s CHORD (Campbeltown, Helensburgh, Oban, Rothesay and Dunoon) investment in its seaside towns.
Until the previous staff moved out in September 2015 it was not possible to begin any investigative work.
The professional design team led by an architect and an engineer quickly found that probing behind wall and ceilings revealed the internal concrete frame of the building to be in very poor condition.
The Council’s Project Manager Peter McDonald, said: “This is an ambitious project.
“It’s about restoring the Pavilion as a valued and valuable local resource, that it will be a great facility for local people and will also be a key attraction in bringing visitors to Bute.
“The construction of the building is challenging to restore back to its former glory, while at the same time introducing the modern needs of the potential new users.
“It’s important that we take action to address issues as they arise and this is what we’ve been doing.
“When the extent of the repairs needed became clear, we took the step of putting in place an ‘enabling works’ contract to make the basic fabric of the building fit for purpose.
“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes and a lot of progress already made.”
The contract was won by John Brown of Strone and work was carried out between April and October 2016
All ductwork, piping and electricals, which would not be required in the main contract, were removed, leaving holes throughout the building.
Asbestos was found throughout – in the bar, in the walls of the main auditorium and even comprising much of the fire curtain on the stage.
This was removed by a specialist team with respirators and astronaut suits.
The floors between the various levels and the flat roof areas were of reinforced concrete frames, packed with terracotta tiles between.
The reinforcing was found to be rusted, which had to be brushed and the concrete renewed. The tiles were found to be badly affected, causing leaks at roof level.
The effect of the crumbling of the terracotta can be seen in a slight slump on ceiling of the ballroom on the sea side.
The fragile nature of the building was confirmed when, two days after the closing concert on Friday, September 24, part of the ceiling of the main hall fell down on the Monday
All floors with a habitable area above – for example the café – had to be lined with fire-resistant boarding, fitted by sub-contractors from the Midlands.
In short, it left a building site inside, with the only heating from portable generators to prevent a freeze- up in winter.
Parts of the rear and McKinlay St. walls of the building were wrapped in white ‘bandaging’ to protect the wall-heads and keep as much water out as possible.
The exterior walls, made of blocks of composite material with steel bars behind, and affected by the proximity to the salt sea air, will, be replaced where necessary.
Peter McDonald said: ”Work will carry on for some time yet on the repairs that need to be made to the inside of the building, before we can transform the outside.
“Progress is being made and the council continues to work with the Trust to attract funding for the project to allow its full, potential to be realised.
“We hope the local community understands the measured approach we have had to take and continue to support one of Scotland’s most iconic buildings.”
Groups of locals, however, who have participated in hard-hat tours, as advertised on Facebook, have been reassured and very positive about the extensive remedial and repair works carried out.
Now it is time to move on to the main contract to completely refurbish the building.
The process of awarding contracts is on-going. Work is expected to start in June, with completion scheduled for January 2019
The initial funding came from Argyll and Bute Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, HIE, the Coastal Communities Fund and the Scottish Government’s Capital Grants Fund.
Since the building closed in October 2015 further funding has been awarded by a number of smaller trusts and foundations to add to the funding pot and the council is currently awaiting a decision on an application to the European Regional Development Board.
The new Pavilion will continue to be owned by the council, but will be managed on a 25-year lease by the Pavilion Charity Trust, comprised of some very highly regarded people experienced in the entertainments field.