Warrnambool City Council: The Lighthouse Theatre Redevelopment

Mar 11, 2013 by     Comments Off    Posted under: Capital Projects Over $1M

The Lighthouse Theatre Redevelopment is Warrnambool City Council’s biggest capital works project. The $8.9 million project incorporated the following key components:

  • Upgrading existing facilities including increased foyer areas; improving access for the disabled and elderly, improved amenities for patrons and improved back of house facilities for performers;
  • Improving the existing auditorium including new seats, carpets, lighting bridge, acoustic enhancements, a redesigned orchestra pit and expansion of stage wing space;
  • New theatre technology including lighting and sound systems and a new scenery flying system;
  • Developing a new “Black Box“ multi-purpose theatre space with capacity to host 140 patrons.
  • It was delivered on time and within the budget allocated
  • $8.9 million project was delivered with a contribution of $1.232 million from the Council – a great financial benefit to the community

The project was developed to improve the liveability of the city and the region by:

  • Providing Warrnambool (and the region) with improved access to cultural opportunities.
  • Increasing opportunities for local community groups to participate in and contribute to cultural life, and to present a wider more contemporary range of performance.
  • Building the capacity of community organizations, and developing individuals’ skills in performance and/or technical areas.

Since the re-opening of the redeveloped facility in April 2012, the following outcomes have been achieved:

  • Presentation of an adventurous subscription theatre season including a world premiere from the acclaimed Bell Shakespeare Company, and a fringe theatre season of cutting edge work.
  • Partnered with local organisations to present a community led fund raising concert for cancer research.
  • Welcomed schools and local theatre groups to present a wide range of concerts, musicals and plays.
  • Developing the capacity of young people in the performing arts through:

*A program offering performance experience for years 1 to 6.

*A pilot youth workshop program based around acting and technical theatre skills.

The redevelopment enabled state of the art technology upgrades to be installed. A few of the many innovative improvements are:

Reconfiguration of the orchestra pit and forestage to improve functionality and flexibility for all performances, including orchestral performances, by improving acoustics, sightlines and access to the stage from the auditorium;

  • Upgrade assistive hearing system to ensure audibility of performances for hearing impaired audiences, a ‘hearing loop’ now covers 80% of the theatre;
  • Upgrade of auditorium audio and audio-visual technology, including CCTV, stage management control systems, and equipment, to provide capacity to meet professional production audio requirements and the conference and function market;
  • Upgrade scenery suspension and operating system (stage flying equipment), including the installation of powered winches and additional counterweight sets to improve production installation efficiency and performer and technician safety;
  • One of the most advanced retractable seating systems in Australia, a studio theatre that converts to a function room and state-of-the art light and sound systems, the ‘Black Box’ facility provides an additional performance space with retractable seating for up to 180; increased audio visual/lighting flexibility; refurbishment of interior condition, ambience and soundproofing, and the installation of new operable wall creating additional multi-purpose meeting room that can double as a dressing room;
  • Improved access and amenities for people with disabilities including lift to rear of theatre and the Lighthouse Studio, a loading dock including lift to improve access for visiting productions and stage lighting bridge with improved equipment and access;
  • Energy conservation by way of natural daylight maximised with highly transparent street elevations, efficient mechanical ventilation and lighting systems including T5 and compact fluorescent fixtures, natural ventilation systems in the public spaces and offices, passive solar design initiatives applied to the existing building envelope, façade design to the existing and proposed components to prevent drafts, air leakage and thermal bridging, selection of water saving devices and water efficient sanitary ware and selection of materials with a low environmental impact and which are non-toxic or hazardous.


A key element of sustainability in the project incorporated the Lighthouse Studio, a multifunctional Black Box theatre space. The deliberately low staff/low tech nature of the venue, aligned with its smaller audience capacity, was designed to support use by local community groups with limited budget/capacity by allowing them to present productions and activities with less financial or performance risk.
The redevelopment project is the second and largest change the building has undergone since its original opening as the Warrnambool Town Hall in 1891. The Town Hall was developed into the Warrnambool Regional Performing Arts Centre in 1983. Since that time, a number of key issues had arisen that impacted on the facilities operational sustainability and growth.

The project was able to retain a number of architecturally and culturally significant elements valued by the local community while successfully integrating state of the art facilities and equipment expected from a contemporary performing arts facility.

Council also took the opportunity offered by the redevelopment to undertake a significant rebranding exercise for the facility that involved:

  • A community engagement process to suggest a new name.
  • Working with a communications/design consultancy to build new brand, based on the name and the design of the facility, incorporating the logo, website and marketing collateral.

The Lighthouse Theatre brand has achieved almost instant acceptance and adoption by the local community and across the wider performing arts sector.

Since reopening in April 2012, the local community has embraced the redeveloped facility and the range of programs presented including:

  • The Lights Up theatre season with performances from Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Tasdance, Bell Shakespeare and OZ Opera.
  • The Fuse Fringe season designed to showcase cutting edge theatre and involving performances such as Arena Theatre’s award winning production of Moth.
  • The Morning Music program, aimed at older demographic and incorporating performances such as the Mikado.
  • The Lighthouse Education program, engages with young people by providing an introduction to the performing arts through structured programs from companies including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Bell Shakespeare and Tasdance.
  • Commercial hires of the venue provide access to a range of Australian and International events such as Kasey Chambers and the Russian National Ballet.
  •  The venue has supported extensive community use ranging from the Anzac Day Service, school concerts and local theatre group productions.

There has been a high use of the facility since opening

The key challenge for the project was to obtain funding from a range of sources required to successfully implement the project. Council engaged with both levels of government and six local philanthropic trusts to secure a funding for the project. A significant level of time and resources was invested into securing funding, with the first round of engagement with local trusts occurring in 2007, and three major applications submitted to government over a four year period.
The success of the project was also due to a comprehensive design process to overcome the constraints around reuse of a heritage building on a limited footprint. The design process involved a range of iterations tested against industry standards, technical and professional requirements, and community and user feedback. The design achievement has been demonstrated by universally positive feedback from users, a recent example being comments from the Director of the Bell Shakespeare Company highlighting the provision of contemporary facilities while retaining important heritage components in the built structure.

The end of project position shows a small project surplus. This was an excellent result for a complex building project on a twice redeveloped site that had potential for issues to arise based around the age of the site and its previous uses.
Council was also able to incorporate a number of critical additional elements to the project post tender using contingency funds, including new auditorium seating, replacement of Civic Hall flooring, additional counterweight lines and upgrading backstage amenities.

General Comments

Completing the Lighthouse Theatre Redevelopment Project has been an important strategic milestone for Council. The redeveloped facility is a cornerstone of Council’s strategy to enhance Warrnambool’s liveability for residents and visitors. The project will also allow the facility to provide performing arts opportunities that meet the communities needs now and into the future, recognising Warrnambool’s role as the centre of the Great South Coast and one of Victoria’s fastest growing regional cities.
The Lighthouse Theatre is located in the heart of Warrnambool’s cultural and civic precinct. The precinct incorporates a range of cultural and civic institutions including the Warrnambool Art Gallery, Warrnambool public library, Council’s Civic Centre, the Civic Green and Southwest TAFE’s main campus. The redevelopment project has consolidated the Theatre’s place in the precinct, and has resulted in increased activation of this key place in Warrnambool’s city centre.
The completed project has further facilitated strong partnerships with major stakeholder organisations in the city, including Deakin University, South West TAFE and the Warrnambool Standard, in the provision and promotion of cultural activities for Warrnambool and the region. An example of this is the recent exciting children’s opera project Brundibar. Brundibar was presented in the Lighthouse Theatre by Deakin University and engaged with more than 60 young people, providing them with new skills and experiences.
The Lighthouse Theatre stands as an architectural and cultural beacon for the city. The facility provides the capacity to deliver arts and entertainment experiences of the highest calibre for generations to come, ensuring the community is able to continue to contribute and participate in the cultural life of the city.
The success of the project in terms of its delivery and meeting the budgeted requirements should not be under estimated. Significant planning and investigations were undertaken prior to the architectural and tender documents being prepared for construction. The coordination of the team of consultants to deliver the project, the minimal variations encountered during the build, all argues well for the planning that was put in place to achieve these end results.
The financial result for Council has also been applauded by the community with the fantastic result in this rejuvenated asset we have today.


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