Community Connections buildings on market

REMNANTS of failed social welfare agency Community Connections are being sold off.

Properties worth several million dollars are on the market as new operator OzChild consolidates its services across the south-west.

The main headquarters of Community Connections Victoria Limited (CCVL) at 135 Kepler Street in Warrnambool were sold to the Gunditjmara Aboriginal Co-operative last year.

An adjoining double-storey building at 145 Kepler Street is listed for sale at $589,900. Expressions of interest for a building at 92 Thomson Street in Hamilton, originally bought by CCVL, are also open.

OzChild purchased the properties in a 2012 deal that released hundreds of thousands of dollars, allowing CCVL to pay staff redundancies.

The Warrnambool-based agency lost millions of dollars in state government funding after a series of investigations found service agreements had been breached and concerns about how funds were being managed.

It negotiated a rescue plan with OzChild, transferring its few remaining federally-funded programs to the Melbourne-based agency.

A spokeswoman for OzChild said yesterday any properties that formerly belonged to CCVL were purchased by OzChild at sworn valuations.

The move was “an attempt to preserve as many services in the region as possible”.

“None of the properties were gifted to OzChild but paid for out of OzChild’s reserves,” she said.

OzChild’s 2013 annual report lists properties in the western region valued at nearly $3.3 million at the start of the financial year. At the time of the deal with OzChild, CCVL chief executive officer Bruce du Vergier said the board of directors believed it was “very important” the community resources the agency had built up over the years should remain in the Western District area and continue to serve in the interests of regional children and their families.

The OzChild spokeswoman said her agency was committed to the delivery of a range of services to the western region that were focused on its mission to “protect and build futures for disadvantaged children”.

She said OzChild had co-located its Hamilton services to the Francis Hewitt Centre, which was a more suitable environment and provided easier access to other complimentary services.

The Hamilton community held a massive fund-raising campaign to set up a children’s care facility in the city in the 1970s. The centre eventually came under the management of CCVL but was forced to close in the early 1990s due to changes in government policy.

The property was sold and the $350,000 was earmarked for use in Hamilton. 

When OzChild took over, CCVL chairman Terry O’Keefe told The Standard his board was “hell-bent” on protecting the Hamilton building because it was a “significant asset”.

Volunteers at a Warrnambool opportunity shop also raised more than $1.4 million over a 20-year period for CCVL’s foster care program. 

The OzChild spokeswoman said anyone concerned about the loss of community funds should take the issue up with the directors of Community Connections rather than OzChild.

CCVL has applied to Australia’s corporate regulator to be wound-up, saying its assets are worth less than $1000. But the Australian Securities and Investment Commission has put the deregistration on hold following an appeal from lawyers, who claim the agency still owes about $100,000 in staff entitlements.

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