Construction on stage one of the University of Tasmania’s transformation project at Inveresk could begin before the end of 2018.
Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Mike Calford said expressions of interest to select the managing architect for the project would begin in “a matter of days”.
UTAS hoped to have the first development application submitted to the City of Launceston by the middle of the year, he said.
“Now that the funding is locked-in we can get going very quickly with some preliminary works,” Professor Calford said.
“There is a need to know a bit more about the site, about the soil and about the underpinnings, so there will be some immediate work starting within a couple of weeks doing site testing ... we need to know whether there is any remediation or soil contamination that needs to be dealt with.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the existing Inveresk campus on Tuesday and said he would like to see progress at the site “as soon as possible”.
"The mayor suggested earlier that he would be happy to accept the DA tomorrow ... but I understand the pedestrian bridge [at Willis Street] could be one of the first pieces of work to be done,” Mr Turnbull said.
The design is likely to be similar to the city council’s bridge, which will link the Seaport to North Bank, saving on planning time and money, Professor Calford said.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said there would be a number of different stages, given the significance of the building project.
Performance payments would be made to UTAS as each stage of construction was entered, he said.
“As we proceed now from the strategic business plan that the university lodged with Infrastructure Australia late last year, which we have now approved, we’ll get into the detail of which stages will be undertaken in which order,” Mr Birmingham said.
Despite a delay of more than six months in submitting the business case to the federal government, the university still expects to meet the 2021 completion date for the works.
“It is very difficult for us to respond to criticisms while we were in active discussion with private landholders and the City of Launceston as a landholder, and the federal and state governments,” Professor Calford said.
“Today’s announcement and signing has responded to those [criticisms] and we are well underway and on track.”
UTAS is keen to have local companies “heavily involved” in the construction process, with the opportunity to kick-start a new industry with Tasmanian timbers being used in smart construction, Professor Calford said.
City of Launceston mayor Albert van Zetten said the $130 million transfer was crucial in realising the once-in-a-generation project.
“The benefits of bringing thousands of students into the CBD will help reinvigorate the city, with many flow-on effects for the Northern economy from a $260 million project of this nature,” he said.
“The project will have a massive, $1.1 billion economic direct and indirect output through the construction phase, and seeks to fundamentally address the poor educational attainment levels Northern Tasmania is currently burdened by.”
Launceston Chamber of Commerce executive officer Neil Grose said the final confirmation of federal government funding should give UTAS the confidence to move forward and build a “terrific educational precinct”.
“With funding totalling $260 million between the three levels of government, construction and operation of the project will transform Launceston,” he said.
Tasmanian Treasurer Peter Gutwein said the works would change Launceston forever, with both social and economic transformations.