Testing the boundaries of what makes a community. Uniting Communities’ Chief Executive Simon Schrapel (right) with Project Coordinator Steve Hills. Testing the boundaries of what makes a community. Uniting Communities’ Chief Executive Simon Schrapel (right) with Project Coordinator Steve Hills.
  • 10 November 2016

Uniting Communities building a ‘vertical community’

Multi-story building replaces Maughan Church in centre of Adelaide

A ‘vertical community’ in the centre of Adelaide.

An $80 million, 20-storey building to be named 'Uniting in the City' will replace Maughan Church on the corner of Pitt and Franklin streets in the heart of Adelaide.

The project came about because of the increasing challenge of maintaining the old church building. That was combined with a clear vision of what was needed for the community, innovative use of funds and a pragmatic approach to the core service work of Uniting Communities. The result is 'Uniting in the City', construction of which will start by October this year for completion around September 2018.

Uniting Communities' Chief Executive Simon Schrapel said the organisation was keen to test the boundaries of what makes a community.

"We want to create a 'vertical community', a more cohesive and centralised community in the city, and we want to create a new building that will bring together the organisation's extensive service offering."

Mr Schrapel said Maughan Church, built in the 1960s, made a strong visual statement in its time, replacing an older Gothic-style church on the site, but that in its current state the building's value to the community was limited and in need of extensive repair just to remain usable.

"We're very aware of Maughan Church's striking look, and our architect was challenged to come up with a design that reflects that. The old building will be honoured by having some of its elements incorporated into the new building."

Mr Schrapel said Uniting Communities thought long and hard about the redevelopment.

More than simply meet our community’s needs, we wanted the development to be inspirational.

"It was quite a process, stretching over three years. We discussed possibilities with the Board and other stakeholders. But we all realised this was an opportunity to do something that centralised our facilities and improved functionality.

"But more than simply meet our community's needs, we wanted the development to be inspirational."

He said one of the most inspired, and ingenious elements of the new building is its funding and finance streams, which come from multiple sources.

“We want to create a new building that will bring together the organisation’s extensive service offering.”

"To start with, we actually hold the land. We've secured funding from the government of South Australia, and with its assistance, also secured funding from the Commonwealth government. This was obtained on the agreement that 'Uniting in the City' would contain both short-stay apartments for respite living and more permanent specially designed apartments for people living with disability."

The funds from the state and Commonwealth governments become the anchor contributions. On top of that, after considerable negotiation, Uniting Communities is completing negotiations for a sizeable loan. It will top up the funding with equity from its own investment portfolio.

The development has adopted different elements since its conception.

"Investment opportunities have emerged, and as assessment of what would work in a mixed use development, has identified the core features required to deliver a functional and financially viable tenant mix.

"It has certainly tested the Executive and Board's capacity to keep an open and flexible mind on what was possible," Mr Schrapel said.

"It's fair to say that Uniting Communities is not only looking to the future needs of the community but also developing a strong asset. We're prudently investing in our own future."

The development does not involve the whole site. While the first stage is under construction, the remainder of the existing building, about 46% of the total footprint, will be used for Uniting Communities administration and inner city services, housing staff during construction. Second stage development – if the revenue stream from the first stage meets expectations – will be for mixed housing, social and affordable, as well as market priced units.

We're prudently investing in our own future.

The new building's ecological footprint was also a strong consideration in planning. Mr Schrapel said that early in 2016 Uniting Communities became the first charity in Australia to be carbon neutral and first South Australian organisation to achieve this status.

"A high level of work was done on this because everything we do has possible environmental impact. We will meet exacting building standards, while acknowledging that there are differences between retail, commercial and residential demands. Our goal is to exceed Australian standards from demolition and construction through to occupation of the building."

Deciding exactly how the building would be used was also a protracted process. Different clients have different – and sometimes competing – needs, but for 'Uniting in the City' to be a truly modern and urban community it will need to house a mix of residential, commercial, retail and office users, and accommodate visitors seeking Uniting Communities services or using a newly constructed function centre.

"From day one of the project we've carried out a strict financial analysis of the building's use and the revenue stream we'll need to service the loan, balancing that with our calling to meet community needs," he said.

"Uniting Communities' city-based staff of 200 is the anchor tenant. As well, we needed to deliver a lot of space for short and long-stay accommodation for respite, aged care and residents with a disability.

"The top six floors will have aged care units. The next five floors are set aside for a mixture of long-term apartments for those with a disability and short-term respite stays. The five floors below that will be for our staff as well as lettable commercial space. The bottom three floors provide a mixture of retail, public use space and Uniting Communities revamped integrated suite of client services."

Space set aside for community use includes a multi-function auditorium – supported by a commercial kitchen – that will seat more than 400 people for forums, conferences and public events.

"As well, a number of places will exist for smaller groups," Mr Schrapel said.

In 2016 Uniting Communities became the first charity in Australia to be carbon neutral.

"Church events and activities can happen in different parts of the building. The third floor has both internal and outside space set aside for community use, for example."

He said staff onsite were very experienced with both the aged and disability communities, and the NDIS will give people the ability to bring in their own carers and support as needed for those living, or having a short stay respite, in the building.

Mr Schrapel stresses that the design of the building allows universal access.

While the building's different users will have their own space, there are several points where they can mix.

"We're building a community, not just a building.

"In the past, Uniting Communities prided itself on being at the forefront of social movements. We're doing this project not just for the sake of it – we're meeting real contemporary community needs. We challenged ourselves to be innovative, and also to create a legacy for future generations.

"Uniting in the City" will create opportunities for intergenerational connections in a way few buildings ever hope to achieve.

"It is bold and ambitious and will celebrate the enormous diversity and commitment to inclusive community which is a hallmark of our 115-year history."

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