Pool closures inevitable: mayor
POOLS will close in the future, South Gippsland Shire Council mayor Cr Warren Raabe warned last week.
The cost of operating pools was excessive given dwindling attendances and sooner or later, council will have to close pools, the mayor said.
Council’s final aquatic strategy gives pool committees greater opportunity to apply for grants and survive than the first draft.
However councillors were far from positive about pools’ futures when they adopted the Strategic Direction for Aquatic Facilities in South Gippsland last Wednesday.
“In my opinion, we cannot afford six swimming pools and some of them will have to close,” Cr Raabe said.
He warned the Korumburra and Mirboo North communities that while the strategy orders master plans for those pools to be undertaken in the 2012-13 financial year, those master plans may not contain positive news.
“The master plans may say the (attendance) figures do not warrant an upgrade of the pool,” Cr Raabe said.
Pools cost council – and rate-payers – $54,982 on average every week they are open. Over the next 10 years, council will pay $9.816 million to maintain and renovate outdoor pools at Toora, Foster, Korumburra, Mirboo North and Poowong.
Operating, maintaining and undertaking capital works at South Gippsland SPLASH will cost $2.47 million between 2011-12 and 2015-16.
“Swimming pools cost our community a fortune that I don’t believe we can afford,” Cr Raabe said.
“The master planning process will expose all warts and all costs to council and the community.”
That sentiment was echoed by Cr Jim Fawcett.
“The long term outlook for pools as they exist now is not good. I would say to the pool communities, to get your fundraising plans done,” he said.
Cr David Lewis said the strategy was “tough, but fair”.
“It’s been a commendable outcome and I’m sure that by harnessing the energy of our communities, we will do some great things,” he said.
The Toora pool committee lobbied council to fund a master plan for that pool in 2012-13 instead of 2013-14, but council voted against doing so.
Cr Kieran Kennedy said the pool had received substantial council and government funding towards upgrades, and Mirboo North and Korumburra were in greater need.
Cr Fawcett said Poowong and Foster pool committees would most likely ask for their plans to be brought forward.
“I am anxious that we get the master plans right for Mirboo North and Korumburra. They are the guinea pigs and the others will benefit from that,” he said.
Cr Mohya Davies, who moved the motion calling for the Toora master plan to be brought forward, said the pool’s future needed to be secured given it serviced the lower socio-economic community of Corner Inlet.
“I really believe that Toora has been sold out. I believe there hasn’t been fair consultation. Mirboo North has been the true winner in this. Is it all equal and fair? I’m not sure that it is,” she said.
Cr Jeanette Harding agreed: “The Toora pool provides longer hours than other pools and services the community in the eastern part of the shire. It is a vital part of the town and I would go as far as saying it is the heart of the little town of Toora.”
Cr Jennie Deane said all pools had been treated equally but said pools needed to lure more younger people.
Toora Swimming Pool president Rachel Brown was disappointed the master plan would be
She added the committee was “appalled” the strategy classed the pool as outdoor, with no recognition it is covered, heated and guaranteed to be open for long hours seven months of the year.
Ms Brown called on council to extend the services offered at Toora and require communities to find 66 per cent of funding for upgrades, not 70 per cent.
“We are constantly being told by council to increase patronage and so far this season our gate numbers have increased by five per cent. This is in spite of our inclement weather,” she said.
The strategy includes trigger points for closing pools, including ongoing poor attendances and major unexpected infrastructure failure. Council will pay up to 30 per cent of the cost of upgrade of pools, if community fundraising and grants amounted to 70 per cent.
Many communities have pledged to lift attendances in a bid to save their pools.
Derrick Ehmke, executive officer of the Mirboo North and District Community Foundation, told council: “We believe the community can increase the usage of the pool and improve its economic situation.”
Mirboo North pool committee president Liz Radcliff said the group would work with the Mirboo North and District Community Bank, Mirboo North and District Community Foundation and service organisations on fundraising models.
Poowong’s Wendy Tilling thanked council for taking a “community minded approach” to the process, and described the revised strategy as a “fairer and more positive draft”.
“Most importantly, we all now have access to grants. Yes, it means fundraising and coming up with 70 per cent of the funds, but for a passionate community such as ours, this is not out of the question,” she said.
Ms Tilling said the Poowong pool must have a master plan written in partnership with the community, as that would be “paramount to driving fundraising”.
“Yes, this draft does not give a certain future and it is not silver lined. But at least we now have hope that our pool will continue to operate for our ever expanding population,” she said.
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