Northern Ireland

Belfast MAC may need £1m to repair building stonework

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Media captionThe cracks have started to appear in the building's external stonework, as Robbie Meredith reports

The Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC) in Belfast may need up to £1m of public money to carry out repairs to the external stonework on the building.

Problems with the basalt cladding were first noticed at the end of 2014, and consultants are set to be appointed to address the problem.

Netting has been put on the building to prevent any risk to users and pedestrians in St Anne's Square.

The building opened in 2012, and cost more than £17m.

Earlier this week, MLAs on the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) Committee heard that the MAC may have to close if repair work is not carried out.

Image caption The Belfast MAC opened in 2012

Joe O'Neill, the chair of the MAC board, says he is confident that the arts centre will be able to stay open during any work.

He confirmed that they would be looking for help to meet the repair bill.

"Based on the original bill costs and, maybe, allowing a little bit extra for inflation and the removal of the existing cladding, a provisional figure of £1m has been speculated," he said.

"Obviously, that's a level of funding we have asked the Executive for some support on.

"The MAC is a publicly-funded organisation, and we don't have the resources to fund that.

"We'd need some co-operation and partnership with our funders.

"This is more significant than we would like to have dealt with, but nothing that can't be resolved and a permanent solution put in place."

Image caption Netting has been put up at the MAC

The MAC's main funders are DCAL and the Arts Council.

The architects who designed the MAC were not available for interview, but a number of architects say that problems with a relatively new building are not unusual.

Some described it as like moving into a new home, where you may not find some faults until you have been living in it.

"Buildings have all kinds of different issues, during construction and at the post-construction phase," said Michael Corr, the director of PLACE Built Environment Centre.

"Anyone who has built their own house can tell you that.

Image caption Problems with the basalt cladding were first noticed at the end of last year

"Buildings are living, breathing things and with most new buildings there are teething problems, and so it shouldn't close the building.

"That really would be the worst case scenario."

The problems with the exterior come at a time when the MAC is otherwise celebrating success.

It has been shortlisted for the prestigious Arts Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015.

The judges for that competition arrive in Belfast on Friday, and the winner will be announced on 1 July.

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