The new Australian Opal Centre - WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

After years of hard work, preparation, planning and lobbying, on 10 March this year we shared the fantastic news that $20 million in funding has been secured for Stage 1 of the new Australian Opal Centre (AOC)! 

We thank everyone involved, including the AOC's Founders and the many of you who have made donations, large and small, to AOC fundraising campaigns over the years; or have spoken or written in support of the Australian Opal Centre; or volunteered or helped in any other way.

The question now is: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The short answer is: it's full steam ahead! There are many ways you can get involved – scroll down to the end to see how. 

For those wanting more detail: get comfortable, read on and feel free to share this with your friends, family or colleagues.

The Funding

Stage 1 of the new AOC will be funded by $1 million from AOC Founders, $2 million from Walgett Shire Council, $7.5 million from the NSW Government through the Regional Communities Development Fund, and $9.5 million from the Australian Government's Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF).

The first step is to finalise receipt of the money from each of those sources.

Some AOC Founders have paid their commitments in full; others have been paying in instalments, or have chosen to wait until we reached the $10 million funding milestone before paying more than their initial contribution. We'll be in touch with AOC Founders as soon as the government funding is finalised to arrange Founders' remaining payments. 

For each source of government funding, we are now negotiating funding agreements that set out project dates, milestones, the timing of payments and other details. It's complex, ensuring timings and conditions meet the requirements for all funding sources.

With the NSW election behind us we're told to expect the NSW Government AOC Stage 1 funding agreement very soon. Deputy Premier John Barilaro has reaffirmed that the funding, which was committed before the NSW state election on 23 March, will be honoured.

We have received BBRF funding agreement documents from the Australian Government and now that the Federal election's done and dusted, these will be finalised soon. The official start date for the BBRF-funded project is 1 July 2019, so we're well on track.

Who is managing the building project?

The Management Committee of LROFC Inc is responsible for overall management of the project and must meet stringent reporting requirements to trigger funding payments. 

The Committee calls on highly skilled advisors to support its decision making. In particular, Honorary Infrastructure Advisor Darren Naumann AM has provided invaluable guidance to the committee over the past 18 months and will continue to play a vital role. 

Once funding agreements are signed, the Committee will engage a project manager with high level experience and expertise to manage the project on a day-to-day basis. The Committee will also appoint a local project subcommittee to provide advice as the project proceeds, and an AOC representative who will liaise with the project management and design teams.

Who will be building the new AOC?

Tenders will be advertised for construction of the new AOC. We will be looking for an exceptional head contractor with experience delivering comparable projects in regional locations. All tenders will be required to demonstrate how they will prioritise local and regional suppliers, subcontractors and employment outcomes, including Indigenous employment outcomes.

When will work start?

AOC Stage 1 will commence after the funding agreements are signed and in place. The current scheduled start date is 1 July 2019. It'll be a while before anything happens on the building site – there's a lot to do before then.

What will happen first?

The first major phase of AOC Stage 1 will be to assemble the design and project management teams, then complete detailed design, engineering and documentation for the new Australian Opal Centre building. This critical work will take several months, with architects Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin working in a multidisciplinary team that will include engineers, a quantity surveyor and client representatives.

When detailed documentation is completed, tenders will be advertised for construction. After tenders are granted, the construction team, plant, equipment and materials will be mobilised.

When will we see construction get under way?

The start date for work on the building site won't be known until arrangements have been finalised with government. We think it's safe to say it will be several months from now and most likely in the first half of 2020.

Why is the build being staged? 

In September 2018, the AOC committee was advised by NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet to stage the construction of the new AOC, so the building could be opened sooner rather than later, generating income and creating benefits while fundraising continued to complete it. In consultation with our architects, quantity surveyor and advisors, the AOC team came up with a two-stage approach. Without it, government funding would not have been made available this year.

What is AOC Stage 1?

AOC Stage 1 starts with detailed design and engineering of the AOC building, then moves on to construction and fitout of about half of the building. Stage 1 will produce a financially viable standalone facility that will be open to the public and delivering many programs and benefits, with several revenue sources underpinning the centre's financial viability. It will offer superb exhibitions, a gift shop, café, opal vault, staff and visitor amenities and a large flexible underground venue. 

At the end of Stage 1, approximately two thirds of the building’s outer walls, roof and upper level floor will be complete, with a core section of the building fitted out and ready for the public. The lower level (eventually to contain the Gondwanan garden, permanent exhibitions, teaching and research rooms), will in Stage 1 be a dramatic unfinished open area we can use for tours, functions and events. 

Functional spaces completed in Stage 1:

  1. Visitor Entry and Ticket Desk

  2. Exhibition space

  3. High security Opal Vault for storage, sale and certification of fine opal

  4. Gift Shop

  5. Café

  6. Offices

  7. Toilets

  8. Ramp and walkways

  9. Car parking including bus and coach parking

  10. Large flexible underground venue

When will AOC Stage 1 open to the public?

Stay tuned! We will announce the intended opening date after funding arrangements are finalised and the project management team is in place.

Who will be employed at the new AOC?

The AOC has a staffing plan for its new building and will start recruiting in the months prior to opening of the new facility. It'll be a great place to work, whether as a paid employee or a volunteer.

What are the plans for Stage 2?

Stage 2 involves construction and fitout of the western end of the new AOC building and fitout of the lower level. While Stage 1 is a HUGE step towards realising the potential of the new Australian Opal Centre, it's on completion of Stage 2 that we'll see the full suite of facilities and programs planned for the new AOC.

Stage 2 will give us temporary exhibitions, conferences, events and cinema, the scientific research laboratory, Discovery Room for school groups, opal cutting workshop (for classes in opal cutting, carving and jewellery making), opal research library, collection storage, curator's office, staff and volunteer offices and amenities, rentable offices, Gondwanan Garden, loading dock, goods lift, and building storage and maintenance. 

Until then, the AOC will continue to run programs and classes from the AOC Black Opal Heritage Shed and other venues, as well as from Stage 1 of the new building.

Fundraising for Stage 2 will commence soon and continue throughout the Stage 1 design and construction phases. 

If we could raise the funds for Stage 2 while Stage 1 is underway, construction of the new Australian Opal Centre could be achieved as a single uninterrupted project, delivering the full range of benefits promised by the new AOC much sooner and more cost effectively.

Opportunities for involvement

There will be many opportunities for involvement in the Australian Opal Centre as Stage 1 proceeds. If you'd like to join a great team and be involved with this internationally recognised project, get in touch NOW!!

Click on one or more of the links below to send us your details and any information you would like to provide; we will add you to our contacts register. If you don't see a perfect fit for what you have in mind, just choose whichever is closest and drop us a line.

AOC construction project – express interest in tendering for, supplying to or seeking employment [link to]

AOC management – we're looking for new people to serve on the management committee or board of the Australian Opal Centre, or in an advisory role to the committee or board [link to]

Governance – express interest in involvement with governance of the management committee or board of the Australian Opal Centre [link to]

AOC Founder campaign – tell us if you're interested in becoming an AOC Founder or upgrading your Founder commitment; or if you would like us to contact someone you know and invite them to become an AOC Founder [link to]

Fundraising and relationship management –support AOC Stage 2 fundraising efforts as a fundraiser, advisor, donor (including through bequests), volunteer or by connecting us with your contacts [link to]

Donate to the collection or AOC Acquisitions Fund – make your mark by donating opal, opalised fossils, archival materials or other items to the AOC's world-leading collection, or donating to the AOC Acquisitions Fund [link to]

Public programs and education – get involved with developing and running AOC educational or cultural programs [link to]

Volunteering at the AOC – offer to volunteer at the AOC, either at Lightning Ridge or from wherever you live or work (what would you like to do and what interests or skills would you like to offer?) [link to]

Employment at the AOC – express interest in employment at the AOC (what area of employment interests you and what skills and experience can you offer?) [link to]

Professional skills – we welcome offers of professional skills on a pro bono or paid basis [link to]

Membership – contact us to renew or upgrade your membership, or if you would like us to send membership information to someone you know [link to]

Thank you for being a part of the Australian Opal Centre project. There are exciting times ahead and we look forward to sharing them with you.