IN its present condition the McGarel Town Hall's windowsills are rotting, damp continues to rise and its sandstone exterior has been eroded by the elements.
But the Grade B listed building, on the corner of Main Street and Upper Cross Street, could be restored to its former glory as the council are preparing a tender brief for consultants to draw up a cost analysis for major works.
It’s not the first time the council have suggested restoring the prominent building. Various schemes have been drawn up but to no avail.
First opened in 1869, funding for the building was provided by Charles McGarel - with the condition that it was used as a town hall, public newsroom and library. Construction began in 1860 and took 19 years to complete, according to the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS). It was first listed as an historically important structure in 1979.
The main hall and a smaller room towards the Main Street end are still used but the upstairs boardroom - known as the Magee Room - and the balcony are closed off.
The second floor Magee Room is in a particularly poor condition. A strong smell of damp pervades the spacious room which overlooks Main Street, window frames appear to be rotten and damp patches are evident on the walls. On both floors rising damp is evident on many of the walls.
Caretaker Tommy Armour, who has worked for the council for more than 20 years, said that tourists often ask about the town hall. Many people, he added, also mistake the building for a church. Local groups such as St John Ambulance, the Sea Cadets and Unislim still use the main room but, he added, the building is in “a terrible state”.
Town centre manager Hazel Bell said drawing up a tender notice is under way and should be advertised within a few weeks. A refurbishment, she added, should include restoration of the weather-eroded sandstone walls, the roof and guttering and a complete internal restoration.
“It’s an important building for the people of Larne so it’s about bringing it back into use. Its central location means it would be accessible for people,” said Mrs Bell.
It is not known how much a full restoration, if it goes ahead, will cost. Restoring a Grade B building - the grading refers to all buildings of quality and character constructed between 1830 and 1935 - would probably cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not more.
The council this week announced capital funding for the Town Hall in this year’s rates budget.