The Ningaloo Centre is proposed as a major research facility for scientists studying the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range national parks.
But it will also function as a community hub with a new visitor’s centre, library, museum, convention centre, café and children’s playground included in the design plans.
Federal Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories Minister, Catherine King, said the project would increase awareness of the region’s environmental riches and help diversify the local economy.
“This state-of-the-art centre will provide an important social, educational and research hub which will attract researchers, students and visitors to the region and provide increased learning opportunities for the Exmouth community,” Minister King said.
She said the project would also provide “increased employment opportunities and greater demand for local housing, goods and services”.
The Federal Government’s endorsement comes as community groups have been calling for a Ningaloo research centre for the past 15-years.
While the Great Barrier Reef is home to a network of coral reef research centres, there are currently no facilities between Perth and Darwin supporting marine research.
“Obviously, there is millions of dollars spent on research on the Ningaloo Reef, but researchers haven’t got a facility to undertake that research and it restricts a lot of what they can do in terms of taking samples and so on,” Shire of Exmouth chief executive officer Bill Price said.
Price said the new Ningaloo Centre aimed to fulfil four aims.
It would boost scientific research with new wet and dry laboratories, aquaria, classrooms and other facilities to be shared by an alliance of research bodies, ranging from the University of Western Australia to the CSIRO.
It would promote culture by including a new museum and gallery space to help tell stories of the Indigenous, American, oil and gas and environmental histories of the Exmouth Gulf.
Its new convention centre, library, indoor playground and six office spaces for community groups would act as an upgrade to existing Shire buildings, many of which date back 50-years to the American era.
And it would also aim to boost tourism with hopes that even more people would be attracted to its proposed visitor’s centre than the 120-150,000 that visit the existing centre.
Price said the expectation was to now complete the Ningaloo Centre by 2016 with the Shire hopeful of quickly securing full funding for the $30m project.
He said the $7m Federal grant awarded as part of the Regional Development Australia Fund comes on top of a notional commitment by the Gascoyne Development Commission to contribute $20m to the project.
The Shire is also in “positive” discussions with funding bodies, such as LotteryWest, for the remaining funds.
Once the project is fully financed, the Shire will commission Matera Construction and Site Architecture to prepare design drawings with hopes construction will begin in the second half of 2014.