If City Hall wants to secure extra office space for staff it cam look to its own vacant offices, as well as numerous sites around town, rather than the iconic Comerford House at the Spanish Arch.
This is the view of Independent councillor Catherine Connolly who is calling for Comerford House to be renovated into a cultural and community facility.
At Monday’s city council meeting, officials at City Hall came under fire when they presented plans to convert Comerford House into a facility for Galway City Council staff.
The move is in response to the spiralling costs of renting office space in the city for staff, which are believed to be in the region of six figure sums. City officials believe the conversion would alleviate some of this expense and they are keen to ascertain the structural state of the building and conversion costs.
Consultations and assessments are underway to investigate the current condition of Comerford House. The building, which was gifted to the city by the Comerford family was the former home of the Galway museum. In recent years the building has fallen into disrepair and has lain empty.
However councillors slammed officials arguing the building should be reserved for arts and heritage uses, leading Cllr Connolly to propose developing it into a cultural and community facility.
Cllr Connolly’s motion was supported by “the vast majority of city councillors”, including Labour’s Cllr Tom Costello. “We are meant to be promoting the museum and the Spanish Arch, Comerford House would be the jewel in the crown,” he said. “There are groups calling out for a space like this.”
Fine Gael’s Cllr Pádraig Conneely warned the council may find itself in court if the building is used for office space. “That building was given for cultural purposes, not offices for city officials” he said.
In response, city manager Joe O’Neill said he worked in Comerford House for 10 years when the housing department was located there, and he had “no reason to believe there is a restriction” on how the council would use it. Nonetheless he acknowledged there is vacant office space in City Hall itself which should be used to its full potential.
Cllr Connolly argued that there is “any amount of office space in empty buildings throughout the town which come under the remit of NAMA” and that office accommodation in the Fairgreen should also be explored.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Connolly said using Comerford House as a cultural and community facility has the support of most councillors, members of the council’s Parks and Recreation Strategic Policy Committee, and the Community Forum.
She said council management has to revert to the elected members on this issue once a consultant’s report is to hand and also to revert to the members on the total cost of consultant’s reports to date.