Fate of pools to be decided

The fight continues: Lockington residents rallied at the pool in 2016 when it was first touted that the facility would be decommissioned. Six years later the issue is back on a Campaspe Shire Council meeting agenda, up for discussion on Wednesday night. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong Photo by Sitthixay Ditthavong

Campaspe Shire councillors will have a “money or the box” type decision to make on behalf of their constituents at Wednesday night’s council meeting when the future of the shire’s outdoor pools is decided.

Rochester pool is one of seven pools which will be at the heart of discussion when the council chooses whether to adopt a recommendation to close all seven outdoor pools by the end of the 2025 summer.

Kyabram and Rochester have won an initial reprieve, with their decommissioning recommended to occur at the end of the 2025 summer.

It will be a case of taking the money — funds promised by the council if the recommendation to close the pools is accepted — or the box — and fight to keep the pools despite an unknown future due to the significant cost identified by the shire.

Outdoor pool users in Tongala, Stanhope, Rushworth, Lockington and Colbinabbin will be banking on a third reprieve from closure, which was first touted by the Campaspe Shire Council way back in 2016.

This time around, however, there is a significant “sweetener” for the communities affected by the closures to accept the recommendation for their closure.

Towns where the pools are closed will receive a cash windfall, equating to five years of avoided operational costs, for township facility plans.

The agenda report, which will be put to the council on Wednesday, suggests that the total saving of closing the five pools, along with the eventual closure of Kyabram and Rochester, would represent a five-year saving of $10.8 million.

If Rochester pool was to close it would save the Campaspe Shire almost $2 million, funds which — under a proposal put forward in the report — would be returned to the community for a facility in the town.

Five-year operating costs for all seven pools were detailed in the report, with Kyabram the most expensive pool to run at $2,087,385 and Rochester second at $1,928,299.

These are the funding amounts identified by the council that are expected to be made available for the community if the closures go ahead as planned.

The Tongala community would receive $804,073, Lockington $803,055, Stanhope $719,944, Rushworth $743,628 and Colbinabbin $421,918.

And it appears that the community will have a rather significant say in how those funds are spent in their own community.

It could be the difference between council voting in favour of finally shutting down the pools, which it has put off in 2016 and again in 2019, or finally accepting the recommendation and injecting this cash into their respective communities.

The report to the council recommends the plan for the allocation of these funds to a different town facility be commenced within three months of the pools’ closures and completed within 12 months.

Another component of the closure will be the consideration of the land where the pools are located.

The report recommends that, where possible, the future use/disposal of these sites be considered as part of the township facility plans.

This means that the town will not only receive a cash windfall, from savings the council makes in operating costs, it could also end up with an opportunity to use the land on which the pools are located.

It sets up an interesting discussion for Wednesday night’s council meeting as the local government authority goes to a vote on the pools for a third occasion in less than a decade.

Campaspe Shire’s regular aquatic services reviews have been a constant source of debate between council officers and the councillors, who on the two previous occasions have managed to delay closing down the pools.

A recommendation was made at the council’s August 16, 2016 meeting for the pools to be decommissioned at the end of 2019.

But at the April 16, 2019 meeting the pools were thrown a lifeline and the council decided to extend the time frame until the end of 2021.

The future of the pools will again be a hot topic of discussion for councillors.

Seven of the Campaspe Shire Council’s eight aquatic facilities are up for discussion.

A report to council says the communities of pools earmarked for decommissioning in 2019 were required to put a plan in place for their future operation.

If not the pools would be closed.

Six recommendations have been included in the January 19 meeting agenda, which was made public on Friday and immediately sent Facebook into meltdown.

Community groups were immediately circling the wagons to again take up the fight for the future of their pools, which have been targeted for closure twice before without success.

The recommendation made to councillors is to avoid the “extensive” repair and capital infrastructure costs required to make the pools “fit for purpose” by closing them in three years.

There is one piece of good news among the doom and gloom for the user groups of the community swimming facilities — Echuca War Memorial Aquatic Centre (EWMAC) will be retained for operation by the council and a 10-year plan established for it to meet community demands.

A final recommendation is to “allocate funding equivalent to five years of operational costs of those pools which are decommissioned” back to the community in which they are currently operating.

This is recommended to be achieved through the Township Facility Plan process adopted at the council’s August meeting last year.

The report suggests that the pools earmarked for closure are “reaching the end of their useful life” and that pools are “no longer the hub of social activity it was for young people in years gone by”.

Council has considered disposing of the pools to community ownership in their current state, but the report suggests that operational, maintenance and renewal to a minimum industry standard is unachievable by the communities involved.