Batemans Bay locals have laid claim to the town’s 50-metre swimming pool.
The future of the aging facility on the Princes Highway south of the Batemans Bay bridge has been a sore point since late August when Eurobodalla Shire Council adopted a draft concept plan for a new 25-metre, year-round, enclosed aquatic centre.
Aside from a 25-metre, eight-lane pool with ramp access, the full vision for the proposed aquatic centre includes a separate 10m warm-water therapy pool and spa, a freeform indoor leisure pool, that includes learn-to-swim and toddler areas, water-play splash pad, waterslides, gym, group fitness and wellness area.
The pool plan is coupled with a new 500 seat performance and cultural space taking in the current pool site, part of bigger plans that take in the old Batemans Bay Bowling Club site and Mackay Park next door.
Both facilities would boast shared amenities, including a foyer, café, visitor information service and associated retail space, administration offices, as well as plant and support services.
Council is looking to take advantage of a ‘pot of gold’ on offer from the NSW and Australian Governments to turn the $46 million vision into a reality.
Around 120 people turned out over the weekend for the “Pack the Pool’ event, disappointed the draft concept plan adopted by Council doesn’t include a new or refurbished 50-metre pool.
One of the organisers, Maureen Searson believes the decision is backward.
“We’ve already got the 50-metres which is catering to an existing group of swimmers,” Ms Searson says.
“It comes down to this idea of community, and bringing the community together, it makes no sense that Council would not build something for the whole community.”
According to the business case developed by planning consultants Otium, a 50-metre pool will cost approximately $6 million more to build and up to $300,000 a year more to operate – in comparison to a 25-metre facility.
Otium pointed to a “limited local market for a 50-metre pool” and suggested stronger demand for a recreation and program/therapy pool space, given the shire’s older and aging population and appeal to the family tourist market.
Ms Searson disagrees suggesting that an indoor 50-metre facility will be a drawcard for visiting representative squads and rebuild a competitive swimming club in the town.
“Families are traveling to Ulladulla for training at the moment because Council has allowed the Bay pool to deteriorate,” Ms Searson suggests.
At the Council meeting of August 29, Mayor Liz Innes rounded out a discussion on the length of the pool by saying, “Ultimately, we will only build what we can afford to maintain.”
To date, Council has ruled out a rate increase to cover the project.
The idea of an indoor, year-round, heated pool has been the long-held dream of the Batemans Bay Indoor Aquatic Centre Committee. Carolyn Harding is one of those who have been selling raffle tickets for the last 20 years raising funds, “The committee would like to see a 50-metre pool included in the new facility, however, if it is not affordable we will accept a 25-metre pool as long as the rest of the plan is retained,” she says.
“Rather than miss out [on the government funding] and be disadvantaged by that, we are happy to see the 25-metre pool funded along with everything else,” Ms Harding says.
As President of the Aquatic Centre Committee, Ms Harding attended “Pack the Pool” on Saturday.
“I think there are a lot of people who are not fully informed as to what the indoor aquatic centre is all about,” she says.
Earlier this month, Cr Innes called for unity around the idea.
“Arguing over detail and process at this point is only detracting from our goal, which is to achieve government funding to build the facility.”
“First we need to show the NSW and Australian Governments that we have a concept that is excellent and affordable. And we do,” she said.
“Let’s get the facility funded, then we can really start to drill down into the details.”
Simply getting a draft proposal in front of the NSW Government for consideration in this round of the Regional Cultural Fund and the Regional Sports and Infrastructure Fund seems to have been a driver, with speculation that the fund is already oversubscribed and might not advance to a second round.
Council’s across NSW are pitching the dreams of their various communities to Macquarie Street for funding, and everyone wanted to make sure they were there in the first round.
One of the NSW Government’s key selection criteria in considering applications is affordability and viability, a 25-metre pool seems to tick that box in the Eurobodalla’s case.
When asked about the possibility of a 50-metre pool, the State Member for Bega, Andrew Constance told Fairfax there would be no issues with altering the design if affordable.
“Ultimately, running costs will have to be evaluated against other interests in the shire,” he said.
Council says a 50-metre pool was presented as an option, however, “Given the additional construction and operational cost of a 50-metre pool, it is likely that the warm-water program pool or the learn-to-swim area would need to be sacrificed if a 50-metre pool was included,” Council’s website says.
“To include a 50-metre pool would have also weakened our business case, undermining the strength of our grant application and the likelihood of securing the NSW Government grant funds,” Council says.
Maureen Searson’s group, “Fight for Batemans Bay’s 50m Pool” doesn’t accept that a 50-metre pool is still an option given that Council has already adopted the 25-metre option.
The group is hoping to address Council tomorrow (November 28) suggesting that the figures Council is using to argue for a 25-metre pool are wrong.
“One of our supporters, Jeff de Jager has raised questions about the audited financial statements that suggest the total maintenance costs for all three of council’s swimming pools was $229,000 for the year,” Ms Searson says.
“The report also says the gross replacement cost for three pools is $5,134,000.
“We are keen for Council to explain how it is then that a new 50-metre pool would cost an extra $6 million in building costs compared to a 25-metre pool and an extra $300,000 for maintenance annually,” Ms Searson says. *See response that followed from Council below.
News about the dollars flowing from the Cultural Fund could come this week at the Artstate conference in Lismore, shortlisted applicants will be asked to provide further project details in early 2018.
Council’s application for additional funding from the Federal Government’s “Building Better Regions Fund” is being finalised now for submission before December 9.
*About Regional content is funded by members, thank you to 2pi Software, Tathra Beach House Apartments, Kelly Murray, Gabrielle Powell, Tim Holt, Robyn Amair, Wendy and Pete Gorton, Shan Watts, and Doug Reckord.