UQ temporarily closes theatre complex due to asbestos concerns

The University of Queensland has made the decision to temporarily close building 22 at the St Lucia campus following a briefing about asbestos dust and electrical concerns.

The building including the Schonell and Geoffrey Rush theatres, the Pizza Café and Chatime closed from 6pm last night (Thursday 13 May).

This decision will be reviewed after critical health and safety remediation works and inspections have been completed by independent experts - Environmental & Laboratory Solutions (ELS) and UGL.

While asbestos levels in the Schonell Theatre are monitored regularly as part of an asbestos management program for the University, the trigger for the decision was results received on Wednesday 12 May from ELS.

The testing showed 17 positive results of asbestos dust on surfaces in Theatre 1 but no evidence of asbestos in the air. ELS has confirmed there is no health risk for those who occupy or who have visited the theatre recently.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said these results were an indication that current measures to contain asbestos in the theatre’s roof were no longer completely effective.

"Given the health and safety of the UQ community is the number one priority, I felt an obligation to accept the advice to temporarily close the theatre to allow for immediate cleaning of impacted areas and a detailed evaluation to occur," Professor Terry said.

"I have also requested ongoing air quality monitoring, and ELS has been commissioned to commence cleaning while UGL undertakes a comprehensive assessment of the theatre’s electrical infrastructure and advises on potential remediation efforts.

"This comprehensive assessment will take approximately six weeks, and we then expect to be able to make a decision on whether the theatre can reopen. It is our hope that businesses impacted by today’s decision will be able to reopen in the coming weeks after some initial works are completed."

The Schonell Theatre was built in 1970, during the peak period of asbestos use in construction in Australia. Over the years, patrons, the student union and the University have supported works to encapsulate the asbestos.

Further safety measures have required parts of the building to be closed off, making it difficult to complete essential electrical and fire equipment monitoring and maintenance.

The University and the student union will be working with those impacted by the temporary closure - businesses, users of the theatres and the upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations - to make alternative arrangements.

Professor Terry said that she understood the news had come very suddenly, and as consultation commenced on a new student complex, which would include a new theatre.

"I hope people understand that our priority is to provide a safe and healthy environment for our staff and students, and those who come to our campus - and this is something we cannot compromise on."

Professor Terry said the University would continue to keep staff and students updated in the coming weeks.

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