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  • Tamara Sheward

    TropicNow writer

    Email Tamara Sheward

    Council unveils exciting new chapter for the Cairns School of Arts Building

    A new chapter was written today in the fascinating history of Cairns’ School of Arts with the completion of the $8.69 million refurbishment of the 110-year-old heritage building.

    A sneak peek this morning inside Cairns’ oldest public building revealed a comely mix of bygone vestiges and contemporary design intended to continue its story as an important landmark on the city’s cultural map.

    Historical signficance

    Originally built in 1907, the heritage-listed edifice has long been a vital and vibrant part of the city’s landscape, first as an adult education centre – akin to a modern-day TAFE – then incorporating Cairns’ only public library and the Cairns Museum.

    Shops and cafes – including the locally-famous Beehive Café – made themselves at home on the ground level of the complex.

    The museum, which shut its doors in 2013, is set to reopen to the public in July, and will be spread out over two-and-a-half floors. The Cairns Historical Society will also be again making itself at home within its walls.

    The four buildings that make up the School of Arts property were each constructed during different historical eras, a factor that played a major part in the restoration process, which began in March last year.

    Wherever possible, original elements of the buildings have been preserved and protected, from the century-old patchwork timber flooring to the use of original window glasswork to the trademark timber verandah.

    The facades of the buildings have also been restored in a manner true to their roots, incorporating styles from early 20th-century design to Art Deco.


    On site this morning, Mayor Bob Manning called the project “a tribute to the changing face of Cairns”.

    “Just as the previous eras of refurbishment and expansion have been honoured, so too has our present-day architectural style.

    “It’s all part of keeping the School of Arts story alive. This building has seen so much of our city’s history unfold and will continue to do so for many years to come.”

    Cairns Museum manager Suzanne Gibson said she looked forward to continuing the educational and cultural services the School of Arts – “the history and heritage hub in the heart of the city” – was renowned for.

    “It’s an important site for both locals and tourists. It gives people a real understanding of the long and ever-changing history of Cairns,” she said.

    School of Arts photo gallery

    External view of the new School of Arts Building in the Cairns CBD.