It's possibly Taree's best kept secret, yet it has been 11 years in the planning stages alone.
The First Steps Count Child and Community Centre, to be built behind Manning Gardens Public School, is in its preconstruction phase and building is expected to commence before the end of the year.
In 2008 a group of service providers and community members met and agreed there was a need for coordinated early childhood service provision in Taree.
"Too many children and families were falling through the gaps," First Steps Count secretary, Rosemary Sinclair AO said.
"They thought it would be a great idea to have one place where families and children could come and receive all the services or access to services they needed. If they couldn't get them in one place they could be referred and transport provided, if necessary, to get them to the places of referral."
The building will house a number of services under the one roof, including Uniting, Communities for Children, Stronger Women - Art/Health program for Aboriginal mothers and babies, ARACY (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth), the University of Newcastle and the University of Wollongong's Early Start program.
In addition a long list of service providers will use the centre on a casual basis with shared office space, including the use of a clinician's consulting room by a paediatrician and Allied Health services, Families and Community Services, Aboriginal Police Liaison, Family Violence Services, Brighter Futures, Kids Can, NDIS consultants, Samaritans, Burrun Dalai, Girrawong Preschool, TIDE (Taree Indigenous Development and Employment), Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services, Connected Communities Taree, Connected Beginnings Taree, Playgroups Australia, The Smith Family Learning for Life program, Royal Far West Children's Home, and Karitane and Tresillian.
Even after eight years, there is still a large proportion of the community that isnt able to access services that they are supposed to be able to.Rosemary Sinclair AO
The building will also include conference facilities and consulting rooms.
"It is called a Child and Community Centre for a purpose - not a child and family centre, which was how we began, because we wanted to perfect the broader application," Rosemary said.
"It's a total community centre, where members of the community can come, have a cup of tea if they want - an old fashioned neighbourhood centre and more."
Outside spaces are just as important as inside spaces for this project, with a community garden and a bush tucker garden, yarning circles, bicycle paths and walking tracks.
"The site has been provided by MidCoast Council and is ideally placed next to Snugglepot Daycare Centre and backs on to Manning Gardens Public School, so they're both strong partners, and it sits between two predominantly Aboriginal housing estates," Rosemary said.
The building itself is the first of its kind in Australia. It has been designed to achieve Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification. While other LBC buildings are currently being constructed in Australia, none of them are community centres. LBC buildings are environmentally friendly with zero net energy costs. The building process will utilise local building materials and tradespeople.
"The water will be captured and reused/recycled and we're going to have solar paneling for electricity," First Steps Count committee member, Frances Barberie explained.
Rosemary says the building will be operational at the cost of $4 million. Architects without Frontiers provided the funds for the master plan and architect Caroline Pidcock won the tender to design the building.
We have agreement with a vast number of service providers who have expressed a willingness to operate from the building itself.Rosemary Sinclair AO
The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation offered First Steps Count $1.5 million towards construction and is also funding a transitional manager for 18 months from preconstruction to the building being operational. The State government is funding $2.5 million.
First Steps Count still need to find $1.5 million to completely finish construction of the project.
"That's to do the landscaping and some of the fitout," Rosemary said.
A Spring into Spring Garden Party is being held on Saturday 22 to help raise funds to go toward the outdoor areas of the project.