Throwback Thursday: Official opening of the HMRI Building

Sep 28 2023

Throwback Thursday: Official opening of the HMRI Building

On this day 13 years ago, in a landmark development for medical research in the Hunter, the new HMRI building was officially opened by federal member for Charlton Greg Combet.

At the ceremony on September 28, 2012, Mr Combet said the $90million was “full of promise for people everywhere”.

“Within it some of our finest medical researchers will conduct their work in close collaboration with others in vital Hunter institutions including the University of Newcastle and John Hunter Hospital,” Mr Combet said.

“It will improve their collaboration, bring together research programs, improve clinical trials and laboratory work. It will build on great achievements.”

“It is more than bricks and mortar. Buildings are where people work, where ideas, policies and decisions are fostered that shape our world. Buildings are about people, and their potential.”

The HMRI building now fosters a dynamic, collaborative environment through which more than 1500 research affiliates, including clinicians and scientists, can trade ideas and access cutting-edge technology.

However the story of our building was years in the making, with HMRI pushing for a dedicated medical research space for more than a decade prior to the opening.

On August 25, 1998, the Board of what was at that stage Hunter Medical Research (HMR) wrote to Prime Minister John Howard, enclosing an application for funding of $15 million from the Federation Fund to construct ‘The Centenary Building’, which would house HMR.

The building was proposed to be approximately 4140m2, encompassing laboratory (2000m2) and office accommodation (880m2). It was planned to sit over the carpark opposite the Hunter Area Pathology Service (HAPS) building at John Hunter, connected by a sly bridge over the road.

On 4 February 1999, HMR was advised that the application for funds was unsuccessful.

Later that month, Professor Katherine McGrath proposed that the $15m research facility could be seen as a three-way split between the commonwealth and state governments, as well as the community.

It was proposed that this split would be commonwealth $7.5m, NSW $3.75m and community $3.75m.

The HMRI Board actively lobbied for the building at commonwealth and state levels over the following years, which lead to a various funding announcements, commitments from the University of Newcastle and the health district, as well as the proposal of an even three-way split between the commonwealth, state and community.

In 2006 the NSW Government announced it would offer a long-term lease on a site for the HMRI Building.

But over the years costs grew and in 2008 construction of the new building, which would house around 340 researchers across 13,000m2 – later increased to 450 researchers and 16,000m2 - was estimated to cost around $90million.

By November, when S2F and Denton Corker Marshall were appointed as the design team, HMRI had secured $55million in funding for the project and submitted a funding application to the federal Department of Health and Ageing for the remaining $35million.

Despite the shortfall, plans went ahead for the new building - spurred on by a scheduled 2012 sale of the university’s David Madison in Newcastle, which housed the bulk of HMRI researchers at that time.

Around $14.5million ended up being directed to the new building from the building’s sale.

After a few months of campaigning, HMRI’s funding request was met in the 2009 federal budget with an announcement from the Rudd Government that the new building project would receive $35million as part of $430 million drawn from the Health and Hospitals fund, taking the federal government’s commitment to more than $48million.

Initial plans for the building went on public display in October 2009 and construction began in August 2010.