If a new aquatic centre is built in Cessnock, it is likely to include a 51-metre outdoor pool and a 25-metre indoor pool, and be located at Turner Park.
That option – with an estimated cost of $21 million – was endorsed by Cessnock City Council last Wednesday as its “long-term strategic direction” for Cessnock pool, with a $2 million upgrade to the existing pool as an interim strategy.
The decision has disappointed members of the Cessnock Pool Users Group (CPUG), which has long advocated for a facility including a 51-metre indoor pool and other ancillary pools.
A 51-metre pool can be divided with a boom, effectively doubling lane space.
That option came with an estimated cost of $48 million, and would have only been possible to fund with a special rate variation of eight percent over 15 years.
Council deferred making a decision on the pool in November 2016 to explore options that wouldn’t require a rate rise, and deferred the issue again in July 2017 to seek further information.
The follow-up report was tabled at last Wednesday’s meeting, and said the 51m outdoor/25m indoor option would “meet current and future needs of the community”.
But CPUG chairman Phil Murray said this statement contradicts itself, because the larger pool would be closed for half of the year.
“Why would you have the most expensive part of your infrastructure, and your biggest money maker, shut for half of the year?” he said.
Mr Murray said a full-length indoor pool would allow for learn-to-swim programs, aqua aerobics, coaching, squad training and carnivals to be held all year round.
“It is essential that it is a 51-metre indoor pool to satisfy the needs of the community, and the sport of swimming,” he said.
“The standard of swimming in Cessnock would be raised considerably if we had the appropriate facility.”
The pool has been a hot topic of debate for many years, and became an election issue in 2012 when several candidates signed CPUG’s pledge that a new pool strategy be determined in the next council term.
The council voted in early 2013 to have a new aquatic centre shovel-ready by the 2016/17 budget.
A draft aquatic needs analysis in 2014 recommended the 51m outdoor/25 indoor combination, but council amended the recommendation to include a 51-metre indoor pool as the preferred option.
A feasibility and design report went on public exhibition in June 2016, but council went into caretaker mode for the local government election during the 60-day exhibition period, meaning the decision would be up to the new council.
With nine new councillors around the table, the pool report was deferred in November 2016, and again in July 2017.
CPUG member Diane Partridge said the group was frustrated that the saga has been drawn out for so long, and that they are devastated that their dream facility is off the table.
“We can accept that it is going to Turner Park, and that council can only afford $20 million, but we don’t understand why any council in Australia would want to build an outdoor pool,” she said.
“A new 50-metre outdoor pool would just be a modern version of what we’ve got here now – it’s a waste of ratepayers’ money.”
Councillors voted 12-1 in support of the recommendation at last week’s meeting, with independent councillor Ian Olsen the sole opponent.
Cr Olsen said the recommended option was a “watered down” version of the plan that was floated in 2012.
“It’s not what the pool users group has asked for, it’s not what anyone would have asked for,” he said.
“We have led these people up the garden path, now we have slammed the door in their face.
“We could have started with a 51-metre indoor pool, but now we are taking second-best.
“Six years later, we’re going backwards.”
Other councillors said the council simply could not afford the high-embellishment option.
Liberal councillor Paul Dunn said councillors were now more fiscally aware of the situation.
“Most of us agree Turner Park is the preferred option, but we can’t afford it, so we should just put the money that we do have into the current pool,” he said.
Labor councillor Di Fitzgibbon said it was important that council have short-term and long-term strategies.
“It’s a plan for a pool for now, and a pool for the future that addresses all community needs,” she said.
“Cessnock City can’t afford a $40 million pool – we would struggle with a $20 million pool.”
Cr Fitzgibbon commended the Pool Users Group for their determination.
“Without their passion and enthusiasm, this would have been put back on the shelf,” she said.
Labor councillor Jay Suvaal said council would have struggled to get developer contributions for the $48 million option, as the aquatic needs analysis of 2014 only identified the long-course outdoor/short-course indoor combination as meeting the community’s needs.
“The high-embellishment option would have relied heavily on grant funding, and every single ratepayer would have had to pay a rate rise,” he said.
“It’s a huge amount of money to spend on one project.
“We should be looking at other ways that we can achieve what we want.
“I would love to see a gold-plated pool at Turner Park, but we can’t afford it.
“But if we do get a magical $20 million, maybe we can go down that path.”
The new aquatic centre would cost $21 million, which could be funded from general revenue, development contributions, loans, grants and reserves.
The upgrade to the existing pool could cost up to $2 million, and works may include upgrading the program pool, installing a splash pad and improving the change rooms and amenities.
The council will receive a further report on the upgrade to the current pool and the construction of a new pool at Turner Park would be staged and funded.
Meanwhile, the Cessnock Pool Users Group plans to reconvene and hopes to hold a public meeting in the near future.
July 19, 2017: School pool for all
July 6, 2017: Pool plans deferred again | POLL
November 29, 2016: Pushing for indoor pool
November 17, 2016: Aquatic centre decision deferred | POLL
November 15, 2016: 51m outdoor pool preferred
September 20, 2016: Nine new faces on Cessnock Council
August 31, 2016: Who is going to splash the pool cash?
June 21, 2016: Pool plans on public exhibition
June 21, 2016: Pool Users Group wants 51-metre indoor pool
April 8, 2016: Turner Park earmarked for Cessnock’s new pool
October 22, 2014: Why Cessnock swimmers want a 51-metre indoor pool
September 10, 2014: 51-metre indoor pool a preferred option for Cessnock
July 2, 2014: New pool proposed for Cessnock
February 13, 2013: Motion to bring pool forward defeated
January 30, 2013: Pool Users Group says new aquatic centre could have many benefits
December 19, 2012: A new pool for Cessnock - but when?
December 12, 2012: Is a new pool for Cessnock on the agenda?
August 15, 2012: Cessnock pool users ask candidates to make pledge