Page 924 - Week 03 - Thursday, 19 March 2015

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Swimming Club was established in 1930 and, not surprisingly, is Canberra’s oldest swimming club. It started swimming in the Molonglo River in the early 1920s, long before the existence of Lake Burley Griffin and even before the opening of the original Parliament House. Its home now, and for many decades, has been Canberra Olympic pool, and the club was probably a key driver in the pool’s original construction.

The Canberra Olympic pool was built in 1955 by the commonwealth Department of Works. It was built with an Olympic-size swimming pool, a children’s wading pool and a diving pool and tower within a post-war international-style building complex and modern, family-orientated landscaping. It won the 1955 Royal Australian Institute of Architects New South Wales Chapter Sir John Sulman Award for meritorious architecture.

The place has had several additions and alterations over the years, including an outdoor kiosk in the 1960s, a temporary dome over the main pool in 1991, followed by a permanent dome in 2008, beach volleyball courts, various internal changes, upgrades to filtration systems, surrounding buildings and significant changes in the main building. But it is a huge loss leader.

The Canberra Olympic pool was nominated for heritage listing, and the ACT Heritage Council considered the nomination at its meeting in November 2014 but rejected it at this stage. Perhaps, given its state of repair, that is just as well. This year it celebrates its 60th birthday and it is showing its age.

I understand the pool is inefficient by any standards. It is costly to fill and to heat and to keep heated. It loses water, and reportedly has done so for almost as long as it was built. Its operator has lost money each year because it is not well patronised, despite the increase in local population, and its operating costs are high because of its inherent inefficiencies. I suspect a facility this old is a maintenance nightmare for the government.

It is an old facility; it is under significant pressure. It is used year round and its enclosed pool is popular in winter with those keen Canberrans who want to keep up their aquatic fitness. But the gas heating is not cheap. The skin over the pool is not the best insulated and it loses heat. Add this to lower than profitable patronage and the problems and costs start to grow.

How long this facility can keep going on is questionable. It is also questionable as to what the government should do with it, given the Chief Minister’s grand plans for the area. However, I know that the current operator, who has had a five-year contract, has had his contract terminated early at three years, effective 30 June this year. I would be interested to hear what the minister intends to do with this pool and its tender going onward.

Who will take on such a loss maker is an interesting question to ponder. Swimming pools in the ACT are expensive. If you take water costs alone, filling a pool in Canberra is over twice the cost of doing so in Queanbeyan. Water charges, I am told, are around $5.30 a kilolitre, while across the border in Queanbeyan it is $2.20.

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