Gamble Building repairs a multi-million pound project says St Helens Council leader

St Helens Central Library at the Gamble Building
St Helens Central Library at the Gamble Building

A multi-million pound investment would be needed to fund the repairs to the Gamble Building, the leader of St Helens Council has said.

Central Library, based in the Gamble, has remained closed since it was shut for urgent repairs in March 2017, although council staff have remained in the offices in the upper floors.

Previously St Helens Council said the estimated cost of refurbishing the building, in relation to the library, was £427,895.

However, a building survey report acquired via a freedom of information request estimated that it would cost £2.16m to make the repairs needed throughout the building, as well as replacing building services such as plumbing and electrics.

The building survey report, which was carried out by property and construction consultants, Gleed, highlighted a series of health and safety issues throughout the building.

These include a number of debonding ceilings, which have prevented further use of various floors and rooms and is what led to the closure of the library.

Coun Derek Long, leader of the council, said bringing the Gamble back into a long-term, fully-functional use is a “very complicated project” because of the age and nature of the building.

“I think most people believe the council can simply replace the plaster that fell, and it would cost a few thousand pounds,” Coun Long said.

“The reality is that we are dealing with a Victorian building and all the plaster might need to be replaced and the building re-sealed from the outside to stop water leaking in.

“That might mean work on all walls, windows and a new roof.

“We are talking about a multi-million pound investment just to make the building watertight and that is before the costs of actually bringing the internal space up to modern standards.”

The building survey report estimated that £20,000 is required on urgent repairs relating to the ceiling and fire integrity issues throughout the building, which also has asbestos.

An estimated £800,350 will be required for further repairs in the short-term (two to five years).

The report also recommended that, if the council decide to invest in the building, all of its services are replaced at an estimated cost of £1,343,034.

That brings the estimated cost of restoring the building to £2.16m.

St Helens Council is now faced with a tough decision regarding whether to invest, against a backdrop of further central government funding cuts, or look at alternative options.

Council chiefs have previously made it clear that it would prefer to move Central Library to a new site.

The World of Glass, St Mary’s Market, the former Burton’s store and the Beacon Building have all been mentioned as potential sites.

Allan Jones, leader of the St Helens Conservative group, said the council must not let the situation with the Gamble Building go on any longer.

Coun Jones said: “We need to look at ways to raise the money.

“Maybe we can get other quotes as we do with every other project taken on in the borough. We don’t just take the first quote we get.

“We can’t let it go on any longer because it will just get worse. We can’t drag our feet any longer. We have to do something.

“I, as an opposition leader am prepared to get involved in any way the council want me to get involved, but we have got to save that building.”

While the council has not ruled out investing in the Gamble, Coun Long said the local authority “cannot rush” any repair or modernisation work.

“What I have said to officers is that we need to think about the long-term use of the building and to make sure it is fit for purpose,” Coun Long said.

“It’s no use spending well over a million pounds only to find the plumbing and electrics do not work or that the building cannot accommodate the services inside.

“By summer this task will be undertaken.

“I can appreciate people’s frustration, but we cannot rush any repair or modernisation of such a historic structure and find it doesn’t work, particularly at the likely cost involved.”