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Chalet maintenance program well underway as a new ‘Vision’ for Mt Buffalo is revealed

To read our blog from November 2016 on the ‘story so far’, and for further background to the items discussed below, please click here.

As outlined in detail on our blog here and here, the National Trust has serious concerns for the future preservation of the Mt Buffalo Chalet if a sustainable future use is not identified and implemented as a matter of urgency. Since closing its doors in 2007, the Chalet has sat empty and neglected, very much at the mercy of the harsh alpine climate. A site visit back in August 2016 revealed that while the building was under constant supervision by Parks Victoria, the harsh climate had started to cause serious structural issues for the building, with the front ‘postcard’ section of the building in the best condition, while the rear wings continued to languish.

Over the weekend, the Advocacy team traveled to the North-East to view the recent $2.8m maintenance and restoration program currently underway at the Chalet under the supervision of Parks Victoria, and to attend the community launch of the Mount Buffalo Destination Advisory Group’s ‘Vision for Mount Buffalo’, a 12 month community-led project developed as a ‘gift’ to the state government. While there is still a long journey ahead before the Chalet is finally able to open its doors to visitors, we are hopeful that the ‘Vision’ will offer some new strategies to tackle this complex issue following years of neglect, as well as keeping it firmly on the Government’s agenda.

$2.8m Maintenance and Restoration Project Update

Following the launch of the Mt Buffalo Destination Advisory Group Vision, the National Trust was invited by Parks Victoria to inspect the maintenance and restoration program currently underway at the Chalet. This $2.8 million external works package is specifically focused on the front portion of the building, to ensure this section of the Chalet is weatherproof and safe as winter rapidly approaches. After touring the building in August 2016, this was a good opportunity for the team to view the current condition of the building, and to determine how far Parks Victoria have been able to progress works over the warmer months. The National Trust was heartened to see that works being undertaken are not just cosmetic ‘band-aid’ repairs, also encompassing not-so-obvious but fundamental repairs such as restumping and restoring structural integrity, addressing serious issues with the foundations of the building. At over a 100 years old, it was unsurprising to learn that years of water ingress had rotted away structural footings, bearers and stumps. During works to remove sections of the floor to remove rotten timber, it was also revealed that the Chalet foundations were built directly atop the dirt and granite below, explaining many of the building’s structural issues.

Our annotated photo gallery below indicates key areas of concern currently being addressed by Parks Victoria (images taken February 2017 unless otherwise specified).

August 2016 versus Feb 2017 (facade)

Left: image taken in August 2016. Right: The front section of the chalet covered in scaffolding in February 2017 (the south-wing pictured left). Works to this section of the building include repair, replacement and repainting of the weatherboards, repair of leaking ceilings, repair and replacement of rotten window frames, resetting and pointing of the loose stone plinth, and preparation works for a new drainage system to ensure water runs away from the building rather than towards it. The building’s structural supports are also being considered as part of these works.

August 2016 versus Feb 2017 (facade) 03

Works to the north-wing of the Chalet are almost complete, following our last visit in August 2016 (pictured left). These works included weatherboard replacement and repair, timber shingle reconstruction and repainting, rotted window frame repair and replacement, repairs to the chimneys (which Parks Victoria hope to trial over winter), and the resetting and repointing of the stone plinth.

August 2016 versus Feb 2017 Mansfield Cafe interior

Works to the former Mansfield Cafe underway (image left taken in August 2016, on the right February 2017). Almost 500 stumps exposed to damp have been replaced in this section of the building. Stump works were stalled during our visit due to water ingress under the building, indicating one of the many challenges of undertaking maintenance work on the Chalet.

August 2016 versus Feb 2017 (north wing - cafe and dining room) 03

The image on the left is looking towards the exterior of the cafe (ground floor) and the former dining room (first floor), on the north-side of the Chalet (both images taken in Feb 2017). The image on right reveals just how important these Parks Victoria building works are for the building – over a 100 years of water ingress has seen extreme deterioration of the structural supports and footings of the building. Repairs to these footings are essential to ensure the structural integrity of the north wall to support the rooms above. While these footings date back to the first construction phase of the building, they need to be replaced to ensure the structural stability of the building into the future.

combine_images 01

Left: stone plinth reset and repointed. Right: removal of the timber flooring has revealed rotting bearers sitting directly atop the dirt and granite foundation below. The option to install underfloor heating will be a major consideration for Parks Victoria moving forward. Both images taken in Feb 2017.

combine_images 02

Left: layers of built up earth around the chalet (after over a century of use) have caused serious drainage problems that will need to be addressed to prevent future water ingress issues into the future. Right: the dining room on the first floor in the north-section of the Chalet. Rotted footings below this portion of the building have been a real concern in moving forward with maintenance and restoration works. Once this issue has been rectified, windows can be replaced and the structural integrity of the room can be addressed. Both images taken in Feb 2017.

While this program of works is but a drop in the ocean for the conservation, restoration and reconstruction needed across the entirety of this massive site, it represents an important step towards the future preservation of the building. Significant financial contributions to facilitate these works, whether through government funding or private investment, will be essential to ensure the Chalet can once again open its doors. For future updates on these works, Julien Atherson, Ovens Area Chief Ranger, has been uploading regular newsletters to the ‘Visit Mt Buffalo’ website.

Vision for Mount Buffalo by the Mount Buffalo Destination Advisory Group (MBDAG)

While in the North-East over the weekend the National Trust also attended a community meeting at the Porepunkah Hall for the unveiling of the ‘Vision for Mount Buffalo Chalet‘, a proposal that has been developed over the past 12 months by the Mt Buffalo Destination Advisory Group, appointed by the Andrews Government in 2016 to identify future tourism options for the Mount Buffalo Chalet. This group of community volunteers has developed this proposal as a ‘gift’ to the State Government, basing their findings on previous research and reports, as well as contributions from over 200 people in the community and professionals who have provided pro bono support. The Vision presents a broad, overarching plan for the mountain in its entirety, including the Chalet, and aims to make Mt Buffalo a key tourism, hospitality and education destination.

While the Vision is ambitious, it presents a potential masterplan for the mountain that explores both government and private investment opportunities, a tourism model that has the potential to increase the profitability of the local economy and attract international visitors. The Vision also advocates for a light approach to be taken to the provision of new facilities, restricting development to already “disrupted” areas of the mountain. The Trust was also pleased to see that MBDAG has also developed a partnership with the Traditional Owners, the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation.

While the National Trust is yet to examine this plan in detail (with the plan to be made publicly available after it is formally presented to Parks Victoria on the 23rd of February 2017), the MBDAG has taken a holistic approach to ensuring the Chalet is not just restored and opened, but is able to remain open in the long term.

The National Trust looks forward to providing feedback on the Vision, and working to ensure that Mt Buffalo stays on the agenda for the Andrews Government and Parks Victoria, and that these plans are progressed.

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The cover page for the ‘Vision for Mount Buffalo’ document presented by the Mount Buffalo Destination Advisory Group at the public consultation meeting over the weekend (19.02.2017). The full document will be available to download after the group presents the Vision to Parks Victoria on Thursday.

For regular updates on the Mt Buffalo Chalet, be sure to follow the MBDAG Facebook page, and the ‘Mount Buffalo Chalet’ Facebook page. If you have any questions, comments or ideas for the Mount Buffalo Chalet, please send us an email at conservation@nattrust.com.au.

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