The Mirror News

All-age demand for Foster Swimming Pool

SUPPORT for maintaining a public swimming pool in Foster is widespread in the community, with age no barrier. This was apparent from two presentations made to South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday in relation to the 2015/2016 summer season operations of the pool and in response to the draft ‘Strategic Direction for Aquatic Facilities in South Gippsland 2015-2020.’

A “cool, calm and collected” presentation (in the words of Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks) from members of the Foster Pool Committee was followed by a highly articulate presentation from students of the local secondary college. Cr Hutchinson-Brooks had high praise for this presentation, too, saying the teenagers had done an “absolutely brilliant” job.

Peter Burgess presented for the pool committee, with assistance from committee secretary Paul Saulwick.

Summing up the attendance figures for the last season, Mr Burgess pointed out that at approximately 3900 attendances from the 35 days that the pool was open, the average daily attendance was higher than in previous years and almost double the average daily attendance for the last similarly cool summer – 2010/11.

He said that allowing the pool to open for lap swimming (without costly life guards) three mornings each week had resulted in average daily attendances significantly higher than previous years, with 6 to 18 swimmers each morning.

Turning to consideration of the next season, Mr Burgess said that while the pool committee has long lobbied for community management of the pool, “it is apparent that council officers and a majority of councillors are opposed and that the request will not be approved” and so the committee was instead making a number of recommendations to improve the service for the community under continued YMCA management. These are:

  • Drop the temperature that allowed the pool to open from days of 26 degrees to 23 degrees or at most 24 degrees Celsius for the 2015/16 season;
  • An initial forecast temperature should be earlier than 6pm of the previous day – preferably 6pm two days earlier with the option to review if a low temperature forecast is amended upwards by the Bureau of Meteorology within 24 hours;
  • Lap swimming to continue for three mornings each week under the guidelines introduced in February 2015;
  • The Foster Pool Committee should be entitled to approve ‘community sponsor’ usage within standard forecast opening hours, providing the arrangement is revenue positive for the YMCA (i.e. encouraging pool visits through the caravan park, motels, B&B operators, football club etc.).

Paul Saulwick added that the season length at the Foster Pool should be at least as long as that of the other pools.

As for the new aquatic strategy, the pool committee supports it in principle, asserting: “The strategy recognises and responds to the unequivocal message from the Foster and broader Shire community that the local pools are valued and that the required council expenditure is considered justified for the overall community benefits.”

The pool committee, said Mr Burgess, supports the innovation within the Aquatic Strategy that provides for a ‘Community Ownership’ default option if a particular pool fails to meet certain criteria or if a community chooses to assume ownership and management of a facility. The committee feels that this provides scope for alternate directions and management of a community’s facility while giving communities a defined process rather than the protracted limbo of the previous ‘Review’ process as suffered by the Foster community over the past two years.

However, said Mr Burgess, the pool committee would like to make some additions to the strategy. These include deleting budget overrun as a pool operation review trigger. Mr Burgess explained: “If a pool is managed by a contracted management company then any failure to operate within budget is that company’s financial problem and should not be transferred by default as a facility closure or forced handover problem to the community…Failure of a contractor to maintain budget should result in termination of the contract and not the potential termination of the pool.”

The pool committee would also like to see more accurate recording of daily attendance figures. It asks that no averaging at Foster should include 2009/10, due to the statistical skewing from the Great Victorian Bike Ride stopover in Foster that hot summer. Furthermore, attendances should only be recorded for activities directly related to aquatic activities. Foster pool does not have as much space as other pools to hold events out of the water in pool grounds, so any comparison of attendance figures is unfair.

The pool committee also suggests that if a community is handed ownership of a pool it should have complete autonomy in ongoing management and if Section 86 delegation is revoked in favour of community support group any funds from prior years’ fundraising should be retained by the support group. Finally, the proposed capital works in the community-prepared ‘Vision for the Foster Swimming Pool’ report should be accepted as the Master Plan for the purposes of future ‘upgrade’ and ‘extension’ phases of the Foster Pool.

Mr Burgess concluded by pointing out the enormous community support for the Foster Pool, as shown in the results of the ‘Planning For Real’ survey undertaken on State Election Day last November.

The mayor, Coastal Promontory Ward Councillor Jeanette Harding, commented: “My personal opinion is that 26 degrees [for the pool to open] is ridiculous.”

Cr Jim Fawcett said: “It’s nice to get a constructive response to something we have put out…It has given us food for thought.” He added that “we would have to give you minimum conditions for taking over operation of the pool [but] there is a lot in here that works”.

Students from the Year 10 Economics and Legal Studies class at South Gippsland Secondary College gave the next presentation. Leuca Maclean was assisted by Tyler Bindloss, Zoe Hodgson and Teresa Gordon.

As lead spokesperson for the group, Leuca ran through the results of a survey on the pool carried out by the students to assess the views of the college community and the wider community. It showed overwhelming support for the pool. He said the students had discussed the benefits of having the pool at Foster and concluded it was: an amazing resource for therapy and exercise; with its easy access an invaluable part of the local schools’ swimming program; and a good venue for social gatherings for people of all ages.

The students suggested running more events at the pool and said they would be happy to be involved in any promotion.

“Foster Pool is an extremely valuable resource that the people of Foster and district don’t want to lose,” concluded the students.

Council will discuss the aquatic strategy at a closed session on June 17 and will vote on it at the July council meeting. “We will take your input into account,” Cr Fawcett promised the pool committee members after their presentation. “Council has a genuine desire to see our pools continue.”

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