CONSTRUCTION of the $19.6-million Horsham Town Hall redevelopment is officially underway.
Member for Lowan Hugh Delahunty turned the first sod on Wednesday.
Horsham Mayor David Grimble and Kane Constructions project manager Peter Mann helped mark the historic moment.
A small crowd gathered at the construction site at 9am to watch.
The sod-turning has been more than five years in the making.
Horsham Rural City Council started planning the project in 2006.
Three years later, council announced it had applied for up to $6 million through the Federal Government's Regional and Local Communities Infrastructure Program.
Back then, the redevelopment was estimated to cost $12 million.
There have since been a number of project designs, community meetings, two Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal cases and multiple cost increases.
"We're all aware this project has been, at times, a bit challenging," Cr Grimble said.
But he said the redevelopment would serve the Wimmera for many generations.
"This is a project that certainly has a lot of regional influence and will serve a large catchment area," he said.
The final total project cost will exceed $19.6 million.
The development includes restoration of the town hall's original heritage features, redeveloping Horsham Regional Art Gallery, building a new performing arts centre and streetscape works in Pynsent and Wilson streets.
Demolition of the town hall supper room started on Wednesday.
The State Government has contributed $5 million towards the project, plus a $500,000 Putting Locals First grant and $1 million from the Local Government Infrastructure program.
The Federal Government also allocated $5 million.
Horsham Rural City Council will also provide funding.
Cr Grimble said funding would be derived from borrowings and savings.
"There will also be some generosity from our community and philanthropic fundraising to make up the balance," he said.
Mr Delahunty said it had been difficult to keep funding coming for the project.
"Governments tend, when they allocate money, to like it to be spent," he said.
"This project has taken a little bit longer to get to this stage."
But he said it was a development Horsham needed.
"The one thing Horsham hasn't had is a regional performing arts centre," he said.
"We've got a regional aquatic centre, which has been a fantastic addition to our landscape here in Horsham.
"It services not only our city, but the whole Wimmera.
"This project will do exactly the same thing."
Mr Delahunty said upgrading the town hall had been a priority since he was in council.
"We didn't have the money then, and I'm thankful to both the state and federal governments for supporting this project," he said.
"It's a great step forward for Horsham."
Horsham Regional Art Gallery chairman Don Johns said he was delighted construction had started.
"It has been hard work over the past four years working out of Jubilee Hall, so we're looking forward to coming back home," he said.
The new gallery space will include additional hanging areas, a new education area, a climate-controlled store room and a dedicated freight delivery area.