A controversial million-dollar refurbishment of the Austinmer Bathers Pavilion which includes an accessible toilet and change room, has been approved by Wollongong City councillors.
At Monday night's council meeting, councillors unanimously voted to accept a tender to repair and update a ninety-two year old building that has deteriorated and is not accessible to all.
The construction company will provide for structural rectification to the external and internal columns, walls and ceilings, as well as replace toilet doors, install new shower and toilet fixtures, paint it and refurbish the timber bench seating.
The main feature - and most controversial element - of the latest design was a new unisex accessible amenity, which was proposed to be installed at the centre of the building with an oversized wheelchair access door. It would include a wheelchair hoist and adult change table.
For more than two years, the council has worked on plans to fix the decaying toilet block, including community consultation and rejecting a $3 million tender proposal.
Some residents were concerned people would not be comfortable to congregate along the front of the building and opposed to the proposal, suggesting an accessible change room would be better suited at the surf club, at the other end of the beach.
However, councillor Leigh Colacino said disabled people should not be "hidden" or "pushed to the side" but rather included at the popular beach spot.
He was pleased the plans included a hoist to help carers and said that easy access to the facility was needed.
Cr Mithra Cox acknowledged how much the historic building meant to residents, however felt a door in the middle of the building was a compromise and had minimal aesthetic impact.
She quoted a wheelchair user who wrote to her saying, "the disabled community has just as much right as any other local resident to access this beach and we need appropriate facilities to make that possible".
"People can still sit and play music, use the benches, congregate and our friends in wheelchairs will be able to join us as well," she said.
Cr Jenelle Rimmer said after two years of consultation, a rejected tender and reviews, she was comfortable with the final design and wanted the project to progress, even though she acknowledged not everyone would be happy with the outcome.
"I'm not comfortable sending people to another part of the beach so we can save additional seating. I don't think that is acceptable," she said.
Work is anticipated to start as soon as possible with the plan to wrap the project up by the end of the year.
Temporary amenities will be placed outside the surf club while work is carried out.