The future of Sydney Eesti Maja

by Arne Rahnel, 11 June 2017

I would like to make a few observations regarding the current topic of the future of Sydney Estonian House (Sydney Eesti Maja), as it has now become the subject of much discussion resulting from the 3 Options put forward by the Estonian House Co-operative (Eesti Maja Co-op).

As this whole current narrative has been initiated without any initial reference to the people that are the main users of Sydney Eesti Maja (Sydney Eesti Selts), I believe that the correct framework was not originally established. Option 1 was titled ‘to retain the existing building as is’, which really should have been titled ‘How to best use the existing facilities to suit current and future needs’. This process of examining other options as well, shouldnt even have started without first establishing if what we have is unsuitable. The process should have gone on to examine alternate options only once the community believes that what we currently have is deemed to be totally unsuitable.

As part of this process a number of surveys have also been carried out to supposedly determine the requirements for a future Sydney Eesti Maja. During the creation of these surveys no input was sought from Sydney Eesti Selts which is the body for whom Sydney Eesti Maja was built. Sydney Eesti Selts is responsible for allocation of usage of the rooms in the building, as well as for organising all functions that happen in the building. Consequently the questions and answers in the surveys that were conducted really didn’t achieve a realistic result in determining the wants and needs of the Estonian community that uses Eesti Maja.

Of the 3 options put forward by the Eesti Maja Co-op, Option 3 (to sell up and move) has been basically discounted as any sort of practical option by all, but has been continued with, for the sake of completing the process. Option 2 (to redevelop the Eesti Maja site) has been getting a lot of attention from some, but from any logical analysis it just does not stack up in any way. We currently have an Eesti Maja that we have enjoyed for the last 77 years, and over which we have total control. Any redevelopment will automatically mean that we lose this control, we will have to share the building with others and negotiate with them in most things we do. Currently we have no such restrictions.

Someone supporting Option 2 made the statement ‘We need to make Estonia House great again’. It is difficult to understand how pulling it down and then building something else that we have to share with others is going to make it great again. I believe the current building is something that we need to maintain, enhance, celebrate and upgrade, not tear down and give a large part of it away. Also, any redevelopment would mean we do not have an Eesti Maja for up to 2 years.

The investigations carried out by Valdur Liira, and outlined at the last information day on 28th May 2017, demonstrated that any new development application will have severe restrictions to contend with. Current building regulations would mean that we will not be able to use all of the land as we do now, so we would lose much of what we now have available. Part of the new proposal is that car parking will be constructed underground. According to preliminary scheme that was presented by Mart Rampe in a plan that was quite different from that presented by Valdur Liira, 11 underground car parking spaces would be achieved. These would need to be shared with the other residential and commercial tenants which really would not leave us any better off than we are now. Parking is one of the problems that we need to live with in our current location and any new development is not going to alleviate this, even if somehow the obstacle of accessing this proposed carpark is overcome.

Any new building proposals will require a considerable amount of money to be spent (hundreds of thousands) on various consultants to develop . This money and energy would be much more productively spent on doing constructive work to enhance the Eesti Maja that we have, to actually do the things that need to be done. There is regular maintenance required to Eesti Maja as there is to many buildings around Sydney, this building is no different.

Times do change and we also need to adjust, but that doesn’t mean that we need to demolish our community’s home and lose control of what we have. We have a building that is in a very desirable part of the city that has many opportunities for our community. These options need to be explored by people that have the interests of growing what we have, and not hijacked to grandiose schemes where we may lose what we have had for all these years.

On a finishing note, everyone is welcome to come to Eesti Maja on Saturday 5th August at 9am to join in on one of our regular working bees, where we get in and do some of the smaller jobs that need doing, soup and pancakes included.