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Disability Rights Advocates Outraged Over Institution's Historic Preservation Status
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 24, 2004

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA--Disability rights advocates in the state of Victoria expressed outrage Wednesday over plans to preserve large portions of the 117-year-old Kew Cottages facility once it is emptied.

The Age news service reported that the advocates were responding to a Heritage Council announcement that the 2,700 acre site, six of its buildings and landscaping would be given special heritage protection.

The historic preservation status was granted after the executive director of the Kew Cottages Parents Association applied for it to be listed in the council's registry. The decision means that the buildings and landscaping cannot be destroyed, and that any alterations would need to go through a review process. There is no appeal process for those who oppose the facility being given heritage protection.

Advocates from the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disabilities called the decision ludicrous and offensive. The league's executive officer, Kevin Stone, said that the mere presence of the 19th century institution served as a painful reminder to people who used to be housed there -- some of whom may not understand that they will never be sent back.

Public Advocate Julian Gardner called on the state to overturn the decision. He said that preserving the buildings showed "disregard" for the former residents, many of which still become upset when they go past the grounds.

Kristal Buckley, a Heritage Council member, said the facility should be maintained to show the changing attitudes toward people with mental disabilities in the late 1800s.

"Our decision is about recognizing the fairly immense historical importance of that place," said Buckley.

Mr. Stone said: "Some history should be consigned to history, but now there are going to be reminders of how obsolete and Dickensian that place is and how badly people were treated."

He added that the decision could slow the process of moving residents out of the buildings, while reducing funds for community housing.

Victoria's Premier Steve Bracks announced in May 2001 that the government would close Kew Cottages, the largest state-operated institution in Victoria. The plan called for moving 362 residents to community-based settings and building 20 new "purpose built" homes on the former campus to house the remaining 100 residents.

The plan called for the 1887 facility to be demolished, and the land -- with a value then estimated at around $60 million -- sold to developers. Money gained from the property sales is to be used to build homes and provide supportive services for the institution's former residents.

Kew Cottages has been under scrutiny since 1996, when nine people died in a fire on one residential unit.

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