MAJOR plans to transform one of the city’s most historic buildings into a high-quality arts venue have been revealed by the University of Worcester.
University chiefs have submitted a planning application to Worcester City Council in a bid to breathe new life into the Grade II listed Austin House, the former County Furnishings building, in Castle Street.
If approved, the new site would be ready to use by September 2018, ahead of the new academic year.
The art deco building, with its impressive and distinctive clock tower, was designed and built in 1939 as a car showroom for Lord Austin of Austin Motors.
Over the years it has been used by various motor dealerships, including HA Saunders, Mann Egerton and Rover.
In the 1990s it became the home of Rowe Carpets of Kidderminster and was most recently used by County Furnishings.
University chiefs have been working with Cardiff-based GWP Architects to develop a sympathetic restoration of the building, which will see large studio and exhibition spaces created inside while the exterior will remain largely unchanged.
The large open plan spaces of the building would be used by students on art and design based courses, giving them plenty of freedom for creative thought and activity.
Austin House stands on part of the site of the old County Gaol, which closed during the early 20th century.
It is understood that in the early 1800s, bodies of hanged prisoners would be taken, via a tunnel under Castle Street, to what was then the Worcester Royal Infirmary hospital, where they were used for medical practice.
The University has already carried out preparatory work at the site, including archaeological investigations and the plans are currently with Worcester City Council for consideration.
Professor Sarah Greer, deputy vice chancellor at the University, said: “We’re thrilled to be bringing this historic and important city building back into use, to create an excellent facility for students on a range of art and graphics related courses.
“We’ll be carrying out a sensitive restoration and retain as many original features as possible, including of course, the iconic clock tower.”
The application is expected to be discussed by planning chiefs in the coming months.