Since 1981, the Riverina Conservatorium of Music has been quietly building a reputation as a premier teaching and performance facility.
But with the announcement of a move from South Campus to central Wagga, “the Con” is likely to step into the spotlight as a world-class facility.
A multi-million dollar redevelopment of the former Roads and Maritime Services building at 1 Simmons Street will provide the Conservatorium with what has been described as a unique performance-grade facility.
Conservatorium board chairman Andrew Wallace said current planning would see the Conservatorium occupying parts of the redeveloped site by the end of 2019.
“The site will be redeveloped as a permanent home for the RCM with specialist teaching and performance spaces for our city and region,” Dr Wallace said.
The Conservatorium was originally established in 1981 on what is known as South Campus, land belonging now to Charles Sturt University, but was then the Riverina College of Advanced Education.
“It has grown and prospered with the support of our community ever since and is now the leader in music education and performance in the Riverina,” Dr Wallace said.
“It is now time for us to move on, and with the sale of South Campus, we look forward to a new home.”
The Simmons Street address will put the Conservatorium within a stone’s throw of the Civic Centre precinct.
The picturesque site, on the edge of the Wollundry Lagoon, has a colourful history. It was at one time a brewery owned by Eaton and Headley and later served as the site of the Welwyn Hospital.
Interestingly, the South Campus site is also said to have housed a small hospital at one time.
Dr Wallace said the Conservatorium was a not-for-profit organisation that worked under the direction of a board of directors, elected from the local community. It is locally owned and operated, but is partly funded by the NSW government.
“We are a member of the Association of NSW Regional Conservatoriums, a group of 17 independent organisations that provide music education and services to regional NSW,” he said.
“Music is our reason for being here. That means promoting quality music education for our community, and promoting range of musical experiences and concerts for the region.
“Our RCM provides programs to suit people of all ages and backgrounds.
“Our programs range from preschool through to a full university music degree on our campus.
“It is not surprising that we currently provide more than 150 classical and contemporary concerts each year, both on South Campus and in the wider community.
“A major focus of education programs now occurs in schools.”
Currently, the Conservatorium works with students from 46 regional schools.
Dr Wallace said the Conservatorium was the largest professional arts organisation in the Riverina, with almost 50 professional music education staff, along with administrative personnel.
The Conservatorium’s oldest performer is 85, and there are 30 music students aged 70 or older.
Modern video technology has allowed the Conservatorium to extend its teaching.
Currently, Conservatorium teachers provide lessons to 1200 students from across the Riverina.
“RCM provides studio and video music programs to an area stretching from Tumut and Tumbarumba in the east to Griffith, Deniliquin and Moama in the west,” Dr Wallace said.
“The RCM has developed new and very innovative music education programs, and is now recognised as the absolute leader in innovative curriculum and distance teaching in NSW.”
The Conservatorium has also provided 50 scholarships and bursaries its students in the past year.
Looking ahead, Dr Wallace said the planned move to Simmons Street would “change everything”.
The first stage of the new project will see up to $10 million spent on refurbishment of the existing RMS building into teaching and associated administration facilities.
Vacant land next to the building has been earmarked for the construction of an auditorium and performance space in a second stage of the project.
Dr Wallace said the existing building would be big enough to meet all of the Conservatorium's needs for teaching space and rehearsal rooms.\
“It's an astonishing opportunity to get what you can see is a superb place for a conservatorium,” he said.
“It takes our city to a whole new place in terms of the facilities available.”
Dr Wallace described the Simmons Street site as “perfect for us”.
“This is an initiative unlike anything else in NSW,” he said.
“There is no performance-grade facility like we are about to get.
“We are talking something that’s quite unique.”
The relocation of the RCM to Simmons Street was a “a wonderful gift to our city and our community”, Dr Wallace said.
“Wollundry Lagoon sits at the centre of Wagga’s commercial district, and has always been a focus for our city.
“The city of Wagga has grown around the lagoon. It is an iconic site.
“It is valued for aesthetic, recreational and cultural purposes. It is central to our city, and is developing as part of our cultural identity.
“The site has been under the ownership of the state government since 1946.
“Our government has supported the idea that we keep this wonderful site in public hands, and as part of the cultural precinct at the centre of our city.
"It will lift the profile and potential of the RCM for a whole range of new musical endeavours, and will change our community forever.”
Conservatorium director Hamish Tait has said the new building would secure the future of musical education and performance across the Riverina now and for future generations.
“It will provide world-class cultural infrastructure for the whole community and it will be the premier performance venue for classical music across all of regional NSW,” he said.
“It will attract visiting musicians nationally and internationally and will also provide the cultural sector employment and significant economic stimulation for the city and region.”