THE cost of converting the former BHS building and Miss Selfridge unit in Swansea into a new central library, hub and archives building is likely to exceed £15m, councillors were told.
The building will also be home to housing options, the revenue and benefits service, the lifelong learning and employability service, and potentially other public sector partners.
Cllr Peter Black, chairman of the council’s scrutiny programme committee, said the cost of the project had “virtually increased by two-and-a-half times” since the outset, and wanted to know if the latest estimate he had seen of £15m was likely to rise.
Jeff Bacon, the council’s head of property services, said it would not be much more than £15m, adding that part of the reason for the increase was that the council had acquired the former Miss Selfridge unit since the project’s inception.
He told the committee that “water was pouring in” when the council took ownership of the building, and enabling works would be completed shortly.
Council leader Rob Stewart said the scope of the project had expanded.
“We have added more things in,” he said.
The Labour leader said Cllr Black’s comparison therefore didn’t quite hold.
The committee was told that building sector costs had risen, and the Welsh Government was set to provide support to offset this. This would be on top of £5.5m it had already allocated towards the project.
Mr Bacon said the remainder of the cost would come from the council’s capital budget, plus some money from the disposal of assets including the current housing options building.
He said: “It will be a fantastic scheme but it won’t be a flamboyant, expensive scheme.”
Mr Bacon added that the conversion of the former retail units, on the corner of Oxford Street and Princess Way, into a community hub would encourage city centre footfall and allow for the disposal of the Civic Centre site, which currently hosts the central library, archives service and council offices.
The public’s response to a consultation about the project, he said, was “hugely positive”.
Committee members also asked if the archives service would be as accessible as it was currently. Cllr Elliott King, cabinet member for equalities and culture, said he thought good public access would be maintained, and people would be directed to other areas of the building when archives space was limited.
Kim Collis, the county archivist for the West Glamorgan Archives Service, said the service offer to schools would change because original archive documents could not be brought out from storage to a public area.
He added the new archives storage would be large enough for another 25 years, but that the search room would be around half the size of the current one at the Civic Centre.
“It won’t be the same service going forward,” said Mr Collis. “It will have to work within the constraints of a multi-use building. It is something we will have to get used to.”
The committee was also told that disability parking provision at car parks nearby should be sufficient.
Cllr Stewart, when asked, said final project costs would be provided and plans for similar but smaller hubs in outlying communities in Swansea – which were put on hold during Covid – had not gone away.
Kier Construction has been appointed as the main contractor for the new community hub, and the committee was told occupation of the space inside is due to take place early in 2024, and the building could be open seven days a week.