The former Castlemaine School of Mines building (circa 1890) is one of a number of grand heritage buildings on Lyttleton Street, Castlemaine, which formed the original civic heart of the goldfields town.
The Mount Alexander Shire Council decided to return all of their offices and council functions to this central location. Next door to the Town Hall, the former School of Mines building was purchased to accommodate public reception, offices, Council meeting and Councillors’ rooms. Complementing a number of other sustainability initiatives by the council, the option of a greenfield site further from the town centre was rejected in preference of a heritage restoration and demonstration project. The refurbishment embraces the character of the town, while promoting and showcasing the possibilities for activating heritage fabric.
The building contained large rooms with high ceilings, naturally lit by generous high windows and well suited to contemporary open-plan offices. In contrast, corridors and ancillary rooms were dark and dingy. Additions built around the turn of the century resulted in the floor plan of this essentially two storey building being split over several levels. In short, the project was full of opportunities and challenges for the design team and client.
Like many buildings of its age, the School of Mines had many innate ‘ESD’ features, designed before reliance on mechanical services became the norm. While under-used or in a dormant state, these existing features offered potential for low carbon heating and cooling. All of the original awning windows had once been openable. Careful restoration was required in-situ to repair the windows and eliminate the leaks which had prompted them to be screwed shut and boarded up.
Missing panes were replaced where air conditioning units had been propped into the frames. Ceiling stack vents, internal hopper windows above doorways and shallow floor plates were already in place to allow passive air flow and cooling. These were enhanced by the addition of motorised roof cowls in the centre of the plan, increasing cross-flow ventilation. The hydronic heaters, though inactive for decades, were in fine condition to be refurbished and recommissioned. These low-cost and low-impact steps reduce the need for active mechanical heating and cooling. During times of high and low outside temperatures, the efficient VRV air conditioning ensures comfort and functionality. Contemporary energy modelling software was used in the design process to quantify energy benefits of the low-carbon features, assisting the Council to secure government low interest finance for these initiatives.
The thermally massive stone and masonry walls remained in good condition structurally. While they assisted in moderating internal temperatures for some spaces, other zones were overheating at times due to significant heat gain through the east and west external walls. New shade screens were designed to sit lightly on the heritage listed facades and reduce the impact of the summer sun.
A mix of sophisticated building services and simple interventions makes this building a demonstration of both technological solutions and occupant control over the immediate environment. Occupants can open windows and blinds, and the high efficiency artificial lighting system has sensors and timers to save energy.
A common challenge with heritage buildings is achieving contemporary standards for accessibility. The original entry was elevated above the footpath. The new main entry was re-oriented to the side of the building and the floor lowered to reduce the extent of ramps required to gain access without impacting upon the main street facade. With a lift shaft strategically placed to allow access to all of the split floor levels, the building is now compliant with current standards.
The many original features such as the bluestone staircase, fireplaces and chalk boards have been retained, preserving the history of the building. Many local residents have a long personal connection with this historic structure. Completed in 2013, the refurbishment of the School of Mines highlights the potential to activate existing infrastructure, reducing waste and making a positive impact on the surrounding urban environment.
Gregory Burgess Architects (GBA) is a broadly based practice with major built works in architecture, urban design and the public realm. During 38+ years of practice, GBA has won Sustainability and Heritage awards for projects which include the Sidney Myer Music Bowl refurbishment, Ironbark Centre for Latrobe University, Middle Park Beach Amenities and Daniel Mannix Library.