Ode to Morwell: building the Latrobe Valley GovHub

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The new Latrobe Valley GovHub embodies the essence and history of the rich industrial past of Morwell. Find out what makes the building so unique.

Born and bred in Gippsland, the Founder and Managing Director of Castlerock Property, Hank Bronts grew up in a time when life in the Latrobe Valley looked very different. However, after the closure of Hazelwood Coal Mine was announced in 2016, along with the challenges felt by a global shift away from resource-reliant industries, the once thriving economy had slowed.

Construction of the Latrobe Valley Gov HubWhen an opportunity knocked to deliver a government building for the Latrobe Valley, the team at Castlerock saw a chance to create something for the local community that would honour Morwell’s rich industrial past while providing a focal point for a more diverse economy and workforce.

In July, the Latrobe Valley GovHub opened its doors to a number of tenants. The building is the work of over 500 tradespeople and construction workers, many of whom reside locally, while the building itself is made from over 80 per cent locally sourced materials.

We sat down with Liam Fitzpatrick, Castlerock’s Construction Manager, to understand how a mandate to build local has shaped the building, touted as a game-changer for the local area.

“It was really a twist of fate that we ended up building something that will serve as an ongoing source of jobs and income for the area, when that’s what we wanted to do from the beginning.”

The building stands as a testament to that local commitment, with everything from foundations to the bricks that were used, to the outdoor furniture all being turned by a local hand.

“It’s a bit of a strange metaphor to use, but it’s like fighting a battle together, going through a build as big as the GovHub. You end up forming really close relationships with people.”

Liam recalls one element of the construction – the cladding – where they struggled to source a local contractor who could do the job, instead using another Victorian company based in Dandenong.

“They must’ve realised how much we wanted to try and use a local company, because they went above and beyond to help us achieve that.”

The company arranged for a skeleton crew to move to the Latrobe Valley and employed locals to complete the team.

The crew lived and worked in the Valley, even hiring a local cook who they affectionately referred to as ‘Mum’ to make their meals and ensure they were well looked after while they stayed in town.

It’s the type of local investment that Castlerock hoped to achieve when they planned a vision for the GovHub.

Image of internal structureAlongside their engagement with local contractors, Castlerock have also worked hard to bring out the character of Morwell in other parts of the building as well.

The roof line is one of the most iconic parts of the building and was designed by WMK Architects to resemble the repeating “teeth” of the bucket wheel dredgers historically used to extract coal for the Latrobe Valley’s power stations.

From the roof to the foundations – the floors of the GovHub also come with their own unique story, belonging to the former squash club which once sat where the GovHub sits today.

And it’s not just Morwell’s recent history that features as part of the impressive build. Castlerock has also led an engagement program with the Traditional Owners – the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) – to acknowledge the importance of the land on which GovHub is built.

Canvas paintings, each telling a local dreaming story and painted by local Indigenous artists, line the ground floor corridor and an interpretive panel sits astride the atrium, reminding tenants and visitors of the creation of Country.

All of the five meeting rooms contains its own handcrafted table, each impressed with a unique Indigenous design, which are the result of a collaboration with The Torch program, which runs art programs for Indigenous offenders in Victoria.

Liam is quietly proud of what’s been achieved here and it’s obvious why.

“I have a young kid, and sometimes when I’m driving around, I’ll point out the building to him and tell him – “I was part of the team that built that.’”

“I really hope the other people who were involved in the building do the same.”

For more information about GovHubs being built across Victoria visit the Regional Development Victoria website.