New £2.5million plans announced for Sunderland’s former City Library

The former library in Fawcett Street.
The former library in Fawcett Street.

More than £2.5million is to be spent to change the city centre’s former library into the new headquarters for children’s services staff.

Sunderland City Council wants to refurbish the building in Fawcett Street into the base for Together for Children (TfC), the organisation formed to take on the running of the department and education across the area.

The staff are based in the civic centre as it stands, but the council says it needs to deliver a “property solution” to offer TfC its own HQ.

The first phase to relocate workers to the fourth floor of the civic centre and to property in Moorside has already been commissioned and approved at a cost of £35,000.

A second phase, to move its Integrated Contact and Referral Team and assessment teams to Sandhill Library, will cost £300,000.

Now the next stage is to set up a city centre office in the old library building, which has been left vacant after some services moved into Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, a short distance away.

The estimated cost of this work will be £2.6million, covering the cost of building work, ICT installation, furniture, equipment and signs.

The Department for Education has given the council funding to help establish TfC, equivalent to 50% of the estimated cost. The total funding available under that arrangement is £1.75m. The remaining balance of around £1.2million is to be funded through borrowing.

If all goes to plan, staff will relocate to the new base by December next year.

In a report put to the council’s cabinet meeting yesterday by cabinet member for children’s services, Coun Louise Farthing, it says the ongoing cost of the relocations will be “cost neutral to the council.”

The report also says that by using the city centre building Together for Children will bring business into the city centre.

Coun Farthing told the meeting Together for Children will make a “real difference to people and families” in the city.

The report she presented adds: “Establishing a city centre office headquarters at the former Fawcett Street Library will enable Together for Children to achieve appropriate, affordable and effective accommodation that will enable the company to evolve over time.”

But Conservative Councillor Robert Oliver expressed concerns over the costs following the meeting.

He said: “There is plenty of space in the civic centre and also at Sandhill and that would minimise the cost for the headquarters of Together for Children.

“It doesn’t seem like the time when we should be spending million on this.

“Also, it’s in the city centre, could it not be a shop or maybe left to retail rather than offices or some kind of attraction given we are going for City of Culture.

“Council offices isn’t the most imaginative use of that site.”