FOSTER Swimming Pool has become caught up in South Gippsland Shire Council’s desperate bid to cut costs and stop the perennial rate hikes which have caused such grief in the community. The popular outdoor pool, which provides relief from the heat of summer for locals and tourists alike and a venue for learn-to-swim classes and school swimming sports, is facing a real threat of closure.
The Foster Pool Committee, a Section 86 Committee of Council, has been advised that the future of the pool is to be reviewed by Council as a consequence of the council document ‘Strategic Direction for Aquatic Facilities in South Gippsland.’
The strategic document sets out a number of criteria which would trigger a review into the viability of one of South Gippsland’s five outdoor pools – at Foster, Toora, Mirboo North, Korumburra and Poowong. In Foster’s case, the trigger is a drop in the average attendance by over 20 per cent over five years.
The news of the review and the possibility it could lead to the closure of the pool has angered the president of the committee, Lisa Barham-Lomax. She argues that Council does not have sufficient grounds to hold the review and the loss of the pool would hurt the Foster community and not save Council much at all – not nearly as much as if one of the other pools were to close. Foster, she says, has been targeted unfairly. She will be presenting her case to Council in a public presentation session at 2pm today (Wednesday) in the Korumburra Showgrounds amenities complex. She would welcome support in the public gallery.
“The South Gippsland Shire Council have used a very one dimensional measure to trigger a review of the future viability of the Foster Pool,” said Ms Barham-Lomax. “The trigger was the 20 per cent drop in utilisation from the average over a five year period. For Foster, this 20 per cent drop in utilisation represents quite a small number of patrons when compared to other communities within the municipality. No other pool is under review despite evidence that shows the Foster Pool to be well utilised by its immediate community and its low operating and maintenance costs. The Foster Pool has been the second cheapest pool to run and maintain in the past five years.”
Ms Barham-Lomax has plenty more facts and figures at her fingertips and will lay these before Council. She will argue that it is unfair to take the ‘average utilisation’ figure below which patronage must not drop more than 20 per cent from the five years which include some extremely hot summers and specifically the visit of the Great Victorian Bike Ride to Foster – when pool usage spiked.
“The Foster Pool Committee understands that with increasing rates the shire needs to make prudent investments in infrastructure and community facilities. However, if the review is about cost savings, a slight drop in utilisation at Foster is not the best measure to trigger a cost saving exercise,” said Ms Barham-Lomax.
The pool committee, she said, is in discussion with Council to try and ensure a more appropriate ‘trigger’ or measure is used to start a review of a pool’s viability, especially given the rationale for looking more closely at a pool is to save money for ratepayers.
“A focus on one pool, instead of a review of all pools and what they cost, is not the way to go about it,” said Ms Barham-Lomax.
She said the loss of the pool at Foster would be deeply felt in the community. “The primary school uses the pool regularly for water safety and swimming lessons for a week or two each summer. The school is highly unlikely to be able to wear the cost of bussing students out of town to another pool, so swimming education would likely fall by the wayside.”
The pool is also a popular venue for VicSwim classes, private lessons and for high school kids and local families who live within strolling distance.
Holidaymakers make good use of the pool when it is too hot or windy to swim at the beach. The pool boasts shade cloths and lawn, and with a kiosk and BBQ it can be a pleasant place to hang out.
The pool committee is small but active. It has taken it upon itself to promote the pool to visitors to the area, producing a ‘pool postcard’ using money raised at pool BBQs. In this and other marketing ventures the committee, said Ms Barham-Lomax, has had negligible support from Council.
She urges people who value the pool at Foster to write to one of the local councillors – Cr Mohya Davies, Cr Jeanette Harding and Cr Kennedy (currently SGSC mayor) are the Coastal-Promontory ward councillors for South Gippsland Shire Council. Above all, she urges people to go swimming at Foster Swimming Pool. It is very much a case, she warns, of ‘use it or lose it’!