DONEGAL County Council has confirmed it is in the ‘very early stages’ of exploring whether or not to build a multi-million euro extension to its headquarters in Lifford.
It’s understood that council executives recently briefed councillors on a number of options, including a €9 million new build to the rear of the County House. However, none of the elected representatives contacted this week would comment.
A spokesperson for the council did say it has been exploring options to consolidate staff offices, and other corporate facilities, in the county capital.
“The council is at a very early stage in the process and the concepts being examined include extending the existing building, utilising the former Army barracks and a combination thereof. While informal discussions have taken place, there has been no decision taken on the preferred option, or indeed to proceed with any option,” they said.
Back in March, 2015, the council revealed ambitious plans to redevelop the former Lifford army barracks and to create a sculpture park at Ards Forest. A report circulated at a meeting of the local authority contained details for a three-year capital programme which also included a Donegal Diaspora Centre at the County Museum in Letterkenny.
At the time, the council said it proposed to turn the barracks into an archives centre as it is the custodian of invaluable archives that date from, at least, the early 18th century. According to the report, there has been a dramatic increase in the level of, and demand for, preservation and access to archives in Donegal in recent years.
Following the meeting, a spokesperson for the council said all the project proposals referred to, are at an early stage and that further details will be provided when the plans are more advanced.
The then Defence minister, Willie O’Dea, shut down Lifford barracks in 2009 as part of a rationalisation plan. In 2014, councillors asked the Council CEO, Mr Seamus Neely, to re-enter negotiations with the Department of Defence towards reducing the costs of acquiring both Lifford and Rockhill barracks. The two sites had been offered to the council for a combined price of €1.2m, paid over six years.
At the time, Mr Neely stressed while the costs associated with the acquisition of Lifford were “manageable and made good business sense,” the costs of Rockhill were prohibitive. The latter has since been sold to a private investor. The Lifford property sits on 1.3 acres and includes a two storey administration block (500 sq metres), two storey prior school (250 sq metres), one storey wooden hut (100 sq metres), two storey officers mess (180 sq metres), two storey – lower block (270 sq metres) and a communications mast. The council obtained a valuation of €700,000 for the property in 2009.
“The Lifford property has five good quality buildings and could be easily adapted to office accommodation,” Mr Neely said at the time.
The council rents two main properties already in Lifford; Station Island and Three Rivers and the Old Road Design prefab and FMS prefab is also rendered unsuitable for long term accommodation.
Furthermore, the County House is considered to be ‘crowded’ on floors 2 and 3 when storage is taken into account. The acquisition of the former barracks would provide options to the council to reduce rental outlay and provide better storage and facilities for archives, Mr Neely explained at the time.