A £2m improvement programme for Dorchester’s Municipal Buildings has moved to the final stages.

Town councillors want to refurbish and re-model the building, increasing and broadening its use.

The latest details involve investigating a complete change to the front of the building, moving the toilets, and making better use of the space, together with a bigger bar.

A contract for much of the works, including replacing the main roof, is expected to be agreed at next week’s town council meeting. Five companies have bid for the tender.

This week the town policy committee unanimously backed pressing ahead with the ambitious proposals which they hope will transform the fortunes of the building and make it better used by a wider range of groups.

It has also been revealed that the council is in talks with Dorchester Arts with a view to the group managing the building, although its use would be widened to include groups other than arts and performance. The arts organisation is currently based in the Magistrates’ Room at the front of the building. Current proposals suggest they would move to the rear of the building to allow a bigger public area just off the main entrance.

The town council’s plan to improve the 1847 building includes fitting a biomass heating system and moving its office staff into a new extension to the rear of the building, disposing of the current town council offices in North Square.

Policy chairman, Councillor Susie Hosford, says that some of the works, mainly the repairs to the roof, need to be completed as soon as possible, while other projects such as the biomass boiler, are expected to be grant-funded and will make savings in the long run.

The council has already submitted a planning application for a two-storey extension to the rear of the building to house the boiler and to provide office space.

The meeting heard that because the council had been putting money aside and was confident of grant aid, the project should not lead to an increase in its share of the council tax.

Upgrades to insulation and lighting and an improved sound system as well as new seating are included in the proposals although Town Clerk Adrian Stuart warned councillors that the ancient building would never be as fuel-efficient as they would like.

He said the council had to accept that it was custodians of a building nobody else was likely to want and had a duty to make the best use of it for the town.

Cllr Hosford added: “There is no doubt the municipal buildings are the jewel in the crown, but we also have the poison chalice of looking after them.”

She said the town council was determined to take on the challenge and make the best use of the buildings for the town.