Police barracks to be razed for $3 billion Women’s and Children’s Hospital

The state heritage-listed Thebarton police barracks will be bulldozed to make way for a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital, with the cost of the project blowing out by $1 billion and the opening date pushed back to 2030-31, the government has announced.

Sep 27, 2022, updated Sep 27, 2022
Render of the proposed new Women's and Children's Hospital, on the site of the current Thebarton Police Barracks adjacent to Bonython Park. Image supplied by State Govt.

Render of the proposed new Women's and Children's Hospital, on the site of the current Thebarton Police Barracks adjacent to Bonython Park. Image supplied by State Govt.

The state government revealed the proposed new hospital location and design this morning after flagging on Monday night that it had decided to no longer build on the previously proposed railyards site immediately west of the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH).

Health Minister Chris Picton did not respond to questions from InDaily yesterday afternoon following a state cabinet meeting, but at a press conference this morning, he said the government chose to abandon the previously proposed railyards site as it was too small, had no room for expansion and would force the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit to be disjoined from other care services.

He said the government had instead decided to bulldoze 10 buildings at the state heritage-listed Thebarton police barracks adjacent to Bonython Park and build a nine-to-10-storey-high Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

It follows a review conducted by former state coordinator-general Jim Hallion, who considered six potential locations within the biomedical precinct in the city’s west.

That review found the 20,000 square-metre barracks site is twice as big as the railyards site and would allow the government to build a bigger hospital with 56 more beds and “built in capacity” for an additional 20 beds, taking the proposed hospital’s total capacity to 414 beds – 76 more than the existing hospital at North Adelaide.

The government states that the barracks site would also allow it to increase treatment space by 24 per cent compared with the existing North Adelaide hospital and build a four-bed intensive care unit for women, co-located with the paediatric intensive care unit.

“Ultimately we want this to be a world class hospital… and we want to get it right from the start,” Picton said.

Building the hospital at the barracks would involve demolishing 10 police buildings – some of which date back to 1917 and were added to the state’s heritage list in 1985.

The police barracks are the current home of SA Police’s mounted police and dog operations units, as well as the SA Police Museum.

InDaily contacted SA Police for comment.

“By choosing to build on the barracks site we leave room for future RAH expansion plus we leave room for future Women’s and Children’s expansion,” Premier Peter Malinauskas said.

“By building on the Thebarton barracks site it also means we can build a bigger hospital first time round.

“This hospital will be substantially bigger than the previous plan.”

The government claims the cost of the hospital had blown out from the previous estimate of $1.95 billion to between $3 to $3.2 billion, with that increase in part due to Labor’s $150 million election commitment to build 50 extra beds and increase car parking, and construction costs increasing by $1475 per square metre.

That compares with the $2.3 billion cost of the new RAH, which was reported to be Australia’s most expensive building when it opened in 2017.

The cost estimate is based on three reviews undertaken by independent cost consultants Rider Levett Bucknall, managing contractors Lendlease and former NSW Health Infrastructure CEO Sam Sangster.

According to the government, keeping the hospital at the previous railyards site would have cost $2.8 billion – a $850 million cost blowout compared to previous estimates.

Render of the proposed new Women’s and Children’s Hospital (top centre). Image supplied State Govt

The hospital’s scheduled opening has also been pushed back to 2030-31 – approximately three years later than the 2027 date floated by the former Marshall Government. Early works are set to start next year ahead of construction beginning in early 2024.

Premier Peter Malinauskas said the government would introduce special legislation this year to speed up the planning process to enable it to be built quicker, warning without it the opening date could blow out.

He said the legislation would “allow us to get on with the task of getting construction underway as quickly as possible”.

“If we get this legislation through the parliament the likelihood of realising the 2031 timeline dramatically escalates and in turn it actually represents a better outcome for taxpayers too because every month that goes past the escalation cost becomes greater,” he said.

The Women’s and Children’s Hospital Alliance supports the new plans, with spokesperson Professor Warren Jones – a retired obstetrician – telling InDaily the barracks site was a better location than the previous plan.

“Although it is a small compromise on the need have women and maternity directly merged with the RAH, it is workable and safe,” he said.

“I accept that it is the only viable option in order to retain the WCH in proximity to the RAH.

“The other options are too complex, structurally or functionally unworkable and prohibitively expensive.”

Prominent obstetrician and gynaecologist Professor John Svigos described the new plan as an “excellent compromise which will work”.

“But, it will require extraordinary energy and genuine commitment from all parties – Government, clinicians, para-medicals, ancillary staff including volunteers and public and private charities – to create a world class institution which will serve the women and children of this state for several decades,” he said.

‘Grievous assault’: Heritage chief sounds alarm

Thebarton police barracks. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Despite clinicians welcoming the government’s announcement, SA Heritage Council chairperson Keith Conlon warned of the consequences of demolishing a state heritage-listed place.

“I will be standing in front of the bulldozers,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in InDaily.

“They will be destroying a set of buildings that were listed as State Heritage Places because they gave us us a tangible connection with a crucial part of our past and how we’ve got here.

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“Even worse, the Government will also destroy any certainty about heritage protection in South Australia.”

Part of the historic Thebarton barracks complex. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Thebarton police barracks is located on previously vacant park lands and was gifted to SA Police in 1917, with construction on the original buildings completed that year.

According to the SA Police Historical Society, the site is an “important facility for a broad range of police functions in the delivery of policing services to the community of South Australia”.

“Long may the Barracks continue for another 100 years,” the society’s website states.

InDaily contacted the society for comment.

State heritage listing is granted to places which contribute to the state’s architectural, social, technological or scientific history and affords listed buildings special protection under the Heritage Places Act.

Thebarton barracks. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Conlon, who oversees the independent body which administers the Act, said his “confidence in the government’s approach to heritage it shattered”.

“If you thought the previous government’s land claim over the railway line to mount a multi-storey car park in the nationally heritage listed park lands was a leap too far, then you will be staggered by this grievous assault on a state heritage precinct,” he said.

Greens MLC Robert Simms said the new plans showed “an alarming lack of imagination”.

“South Australians shouldn’t have to choose between a new hospital and our iconic buildings and Park Lands. Surely the government can find another site or alternatives that don’t result in the destruction of so much of our city’s heritage,” he said.

“This whole process makes a mockery of our state’s heritage protection process.”

Premier Peter Malinauskas acknowledged heritage concerns at the site but said it was “not Bonython Hall”.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that the politically easiest, politically most expedient option for the government would be to have proceeded with building the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital on the previous proposed site,” he said.

“Politically it would be easier to build the new WCH immediately to the west of the RAH but the consequences in the long term of that policy would be profound.

“It is not an easy judgement to make to build the new WCH on what is currently the Thebarton barracks site. The Thebarton barracks site is heritage listed. That heritage listing applies to 10 buildings on the site.”

Malinauskas said the sites heritage status “is more a function of the fact that it is an early police barracks… rather than being a building of extraordinary architectural significance”.

“The Thebarton police barracks is not Bonython Hall. It’s not an iconic stunning building on North Terrace,” he said.

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