The contentious issue that is the deplorable state of the old VEC building on Northgate Street was the topic of much detailed discussion at the monthly meeting of Athlone Moate Municipal District.
Broaching the topic, Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, noted that the motion was an “old chestnut” the resolution of which was much sought but not nearing completion.
“This presently deplorable building is located in the core of our town, a once fabulous building but now in a derelict state. It is both unsightly and unsafe, yet you have individuals making unwarranted use of the building at all times.
“It is intended to have the greenway route pass directly by this building towards the end of this year and it is just simply not good enough that it is presently in an ‘eyesore’ state. It detracts from the ambience and attractiveness of the town,” Cllr. Keena stated.
Current ownership of the building is not clear, with the Town Mayor requesting that the local authority executive liaise with the leaseholders directly to ascertain future plans for the property.
“I am aware of a number of parties who have an interest in developing and enhancing the property from its current state and this is a great opportunity to refurbish a building that has been idle for far too long. This situation is now going on far too long,” Cllr. Keena reflected.
Reflecting on the present predicatment, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, noted that he was educated in the building as a former Athlone IT student.
“It absolutely pains me to see this building falling into ‘rack and ruin’ with grass and weeds prevalent in the grounds and corroding iron railing to the exterior. Clearly, there is no maintenance ongoing.
“We have discussed this problematic issue numerous times in the Chamber without any resolution in sight,” Cllr. O’Rourke remarked, as he queried who was the actual the leaseholder of the property.
“As, I feel, the building is in a derelict state, is that the course of action we must take as a local authority and inform the leaseholder of our intentions in that regard.
“We have further positive developments soon to commence in our town, yet we have no plans for this building for which substantial funding would be needed to return it to a usable and attractive property,” Cllr. O’Rourke added.
Echoing similar sentiments, Cllr. John Dolan stated that anti-social behaviour was ongoing in the building and stressed that in its present state the property should be added to the derelict site register.
“The owners need to be served with a derelict site notice, that is my belief and if they are not willing to liaise with the Council can we place a Compulsory Purchase Order on the building?,” Cllr. Dolan queried.
Responding, Director of Services, Barry Kehoe, acknowledged that front structure of the building (the old workhouse ) was a listed structure with current ownership of the property “convoluted and complicated”.
“There is approximately six years remaining on the current lease. As a local authority we are not in possession of the property at this time. Yes, the building has been neglected but is not in a derelict state.
“We are in ongoing discussions with the leaseholders, there are three parties involved in what is a protracted scenario. We are receiving legal advice regarding the ownership issue, but the bottom line is that Westmeath County Council does not possess the property which has been leased to various bodies through the decades,” Mr. Kehoe said.
While not disclosing entity ownership, the Director of Services assured the members present that the local authority was doing its utmost to resolve the issue.