Photo: Aune Vetik
Given that the Estonian Relief Committee (of which I am the Chairman) has a significant shareholding in the Co-operative, it seemed reasonable to me to seek representation on the Co-operative's Board.
Although early days yet, the main thrust of questions that I have had to field since then involves the future of Estonian House and the Co-op. As I advised members attending the AGM, I believe that all options should be considered as being "on the table". When the time is right, the Co-op will present a long term plan that is in the best interests of its members and the general Estonian community.
Furthermore, it is my intention to present that plan to members before the next AGM.
Since taking up the position, I have been reviewing the history of both the organization and the building. A number of things stand out:
* Options to sell or refurbish the building have been considered a number of times in the past;
* The building itself has a history of problems going back to the earliest records available. These have included serious structural deficiencies, a leaky roof and cracked walls to mention a few. Many of these problems still remain today, despite many thousands of dollars being spent on rectification works;
* The functionality of the building (as advised by its current users) poses a number of challenges such as overcrowding, storage space and access; and
* Parking within reasonable distance of the building has always been, and remains, a problem.
Given the above deficiencies, we have commissioned two organizations who are familiar with the Co-op to provide us with updated reports on the building's compliance with accepted fire safety and building code standards. We expect to receive these reports by the end of January 2016. The Co-op will then need to consider these reports and their ramifications.
Will it for example, be feasible to stay and maintain a continuous refurbishment program well into the future?
This question will need to be considered in the light of an alternative option, which is to sell and move to another site. We have recently received a well-informed opinion which puts the value of the site between $7.0 and $8.0 million. The highest and best use for the site was considered to be residential multi-storey unit block development. This is not surprising given that out of 200 Sydney suburbs, Surry Hills is rated No 1 (together with Crow's Nest) in the recently released Urban Living Index for Sydney. That is, Surry Hills is a highly sought after suburb for residential occupation.
In regards to the Co-op itself, I note that the objectives in its constitution are very similar to those of the Estonian Relief Committee Ltd and the Estonian Society of Sydney Inc. These three organizations also have members that are common to each other. In addition, when it comes to fundraising, each organization targets the same pool of people. It seems that there may be a case for rationalization here. Perhaps resolution of the issues associated with Estonian House will trigger a solution?
Once we have received the above-mentioned building reports, we intend to advise our members of the outcomes in the first instance and then the greater Estonian Community. This should occur by February next year.
In the meantime, I look forward to your input and response to this article. I believe that these issues should be openly discussed by all stakeholders so please send your comments to:
or by letter to:
PO Box 427
Ultimately, we all have a significant amount of emotional capital tied up in the building but we must also be practical. When we have all of the facts, it will be up to the members to decide our future.