What would you do with Shire Hall, Chelmsford iconic city centre building at the top of the High Street?
Georgian Shire Hall, which had been used as a Magistrates Court, effectively closed its doors when the £4m New Street court earlier this year.
Owners Essex County Council say they fully recognise that Shire Hall is an important historical site in Chelmsford.
A ECC spokesman said: "We are considering the potential options for it, but no decision has been made yet.
"We will ensure that any solution is good value for money, allows access for the local community, and keeps it in public ownership.
"We will release more information when it is available."
The elegant building was completed in 1791 to the design of county surveyor John Johnson and has remained almost the same for more than 200 years, with the exception of the main staircase, replaced in the 1930s.
It has has been the scene of many events of local history, from witchcraft trials to magnificent social events.
Ninety Anglia Ruskin students recently came up with a wide variety of future uses for Shire Hall - a social ‘Community Centre’, a commercial ‘Wedding Venue’ and a hybrid ‘Civic Hub’.
A community scheme could feature a café with tourist information centre, with one of the criminal courts kept in aspic for lectures and talks, an Internet café, gallery or presentation space and rooms for public meetings.
The Hall has been the centre of justice for much of the last century when it housed the Assize Court before they changed to Crown Courts alongside magistrates courts.
Crown Courts moved to New Street in 1980 and in April magistrates decamped to brand new premises also in New Street.
Inquests have not been held in the character picture room for more than five years.
Anglia’s Senior built environment lecturer Dr Alan Coday at Anglia said:” “Conscious that the number of buildings at risk is currently higher than usual, 76 BSc and 10 MSc students prepared options appraisals for this landmark building.
“The best way to reduce the number of buildings at risk is to ensure that all heritage buildings have a long term sustainable future and prevent them getting on the at-risk list in the first place”.
“As the Magistrates Courts are due to move out of Shire Hall and relocate to their new premises in 2012, it was an ideal opportunity to collaborate with Essex County Council.
“This final year student project allowed students the opportunity to engage with real issues and develop their own designs upon the future of this important town centre building.
Top marks were awarded to his ‘Group L’ who suggested a commercially viable community based charity to run the centre as a not for profit social hub – which they think Chelmsford needs town.
Dr Coday added“It was great to work on a real building but it was a tough challenge – achieving compliance with the Equal Opportunities Act and reducing energy use to the targets of the latest Building Regulations really tested surveying, design and conservation skills”.
The team concluded it was important to continue wedding receptions and more formal public meetings but essential to open up access to this “impressive and versatile building” to a wider cross section of the community.
Other ideas included a specialist cinema, aquarium, or conventional commercial offices.
Dr Coday added “It’s important that students consider all possibilities so they understand the ramifications of design loads for 18th century floors or the consequences of an end use that might compromise the character of the listed building. Students only understand these issues if they explore, rationalise then optimise their own designs”.
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