HUNDREDS of staff have been shipped out of South Shields Town Hall as work begins on a major revamp of the buildings.
The council says the work – being carried out by Willmott Dixon Construction – will “not create a palace, just a decent working environment” but will not say how much the work will cost.
It does say it will be “cost neutral” and will not come out of council tax payers’ pockets.
Instead it will be paid for from the estimated £1.2m raised from the sale of other “surplus to requirement” civic buildings in the borough.
Any further cash needed to meet the cost will be recouped in time on the savings from having more energy-efficient offices – and the reduced cost of carrying out ongoing repairs.
The areas undergoing the revamp are the sections in Beach Road, built in the 1960s, and in Broughton Road, which dates from the 1980s.
Both buildings are run down and in poor states of repair and the work will include roof and window replacement and insulation of the buildings to better control temperatures.
The project will last more than a year and has already seen 300 staff temporarily transferred to other civic buildings, particularly Hawthorne House on the Viking Industrial Park in Jarrow.
Staff have complained of temperatures inside being “hotter than Majorca” in the summer, with freezing conditions in the winter.
But before the work starts, contractors will this month begin to carefully remove asbestos in the buildings.
On Wednesday at a behind-closed-doors meeting, members of the council’s decision-making cabinet will be asked to formally appoint a contractor for the work.
A report to the committee states “commercial sensitivity” for the meeting not being open to the public – and for the non-disclosure of the cost of the revamp.
Paul Scrafton, the council’s head of asset management, said: “When the work is complete there will be a much better use of space and we will be able to bring teams together. There will be more rooms, quieter rooms, pods and conference meeting rooms. It will be bringing teams together so they can work much more effectively.
“We will have much more sustainable and cost-effective buildings.”
Mr Scrafton said it would have been “pointless” to merely patch up the buildings instead of pushing ahead with a major renovation.
He added: “That would have been pointless and would have just been masking the problem. For example, the roof is completely shot on the Beach Road building.”
Coun George Elsom, the independent leader of the political opposition on South Tyneside Council, said he accepted that the buildings were inefficient, rundown and requiring an overhaul.
But he questioned why there had not been a running maintenance programme in the past.
He said: “Our staff are under a lot of stress and require a decent working environment in which to work and I support the idea of centralising the workforce, but I’d question why there hasn’t been an ongoing maintenance programme.
“It’s been left and now we have one large-scale job at a huge cost.”
The aim is that once complete up to 1,000 staff will be able to operate from within the revamped town hall.