A childcare entrepreneur plans to build an early learning centre on the Williamstown RSL site, which was sold to recoup a $3.5 million debt.

Explorers Early Learning owner and managing director Lynda Kelly said she wanted the local community to be involved in the design of the centre and that she planned to build a memorial to the Williamstown RSL on the site.

“We think it’s going to be a two-level childcare centre with a basement,” she said.

“We’ve got a centre in Maidstone and we get calls in our office every week from Williamstown … and because of that, that’s why we’ve been looking and found this site.

“We would like to do something to remember the history of the site. I think that’s important for the community.”

The club, at the corner of Ferguson Street and Melbourne Road, closed on January 3 and was subsequently placed in voluntary administration.

Victorian RSL chief operations officer Brian Cairns has said the sub-branch must repay $1.77 million of its debt, owed by the trading arm, before it can re-establish.

In February, Grocon withdrew a planning application lodged on behalf of RSL Victoria to replace the club with a five-storey apartment block after about 100 objections to Hobsons Bay council.

Save Williamstown spokesman Godfrey Moase said the relief in the community over the early learning centre plan was “palpable”.

“Even though there is much sadness and disappointment at the demise of the Williamstown sub-branch, the community is acutely aware the site could have been sold to a developer intent on constructing a high-rise, high-density residential building,” he said.

“Save Williamstown has now written to RSL Victoria executive requesting that it reconsider its decision to shut the sub-branch and [that] the RSL dedicate funds recouped in this sale to support the men and women of the Williamstown returned services community and their families.”

Victorian RSL president Rob Webster said funds from the sale after repayment of the patriotic fund debt would be distributed according to the provisions of the trust deed.

Williamstown RSL president Rob Rowe said the sale of the club site for a children’s centre was “the best result we could have hoped for”.

“Something that will give back to the community is very good indeed,” he said.