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Future of Foster Pool hangs in the balance

TODAY (Wednesday) is D Day for Foster Swimming Pool. On the agenda of today’s 2pm meeting of South Gippsland Shire Council is a decision on whether to continue to operate the pool or close it forever and rehabilitate the site (at an estimated cost of $200,000).

The decision is keenly awaited by the pool committee of management – and by the Foster community as a whole. A key finding of the community survey undertaken by the committee in January was the high value placed on the pool by the people of the district. As well as the health aspects, it is seen as critically important to enable children to learn how to swim and vital for the two schools in town to have a pool for swimming lessons and swimming sports.

Ian Lyon, the treasurer of the pool committee, pressed these points, and others, in a public presentation to Council last Wednesday evening. Speaking on behalf of the committee, he argued for the retention of the pool for the sake of the Foster community – now and in the future. His presentation was a brief summary of the committee’s detailed written response to the recent review of Foster Pool, undertaken after the activation of two trigger points – the pool failing to operate within the identified annual operations budget and a drop in attendance for two seasons.

Mr Lyon and the pool committee president, Lisa Barham-Lomax, prepared the submission with some assistance from David Blake and Kevin Flett from the Foster community and with enormous assistance from Carol Lester.

The submission points out the potential for pool attendance figures to improve, with Foster’s population forecast to grow by 25 per cent over the next 20 years. It also suggests ways in which the management of the pool could be improved.

Mr Lyon said it was unfortunate that the development of the planned master plan for Foster Pool had been put off when Council decided a review was needed instead.

“That this review has denied the community an expert assessment of the future potential for the pool is a penalty to the community in itself,” he said. “Clearly the longer term strategies needed to engage the community with the Foster pool would be provided through this plan.”

As part of their deliberations over how best to manage the shire budget, shire councillors toured the shire over a couple of days last summer, visiting key assets, including Foster Pool. Mr Lyon said he was buoyed by Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks’ lateral thinking during the visit to Foster. The councillor suggested that the proximity of the pool to the golf club gave the area the potential to develop into a sporting precinct for the local community. The committee’s response to the review elaborates on this point, suggesting that the development of a collaborative culture between these two activities could provide some useful synergies and cost saving. There is also the potential for collaboration with other sporting groups, such as the football and netball clubs, for use of the pool.

On the table at today’s meeting will be the recommendation from shire officers, following the review, that Council “continue to operate the Foster Pool at a reduced level of service for the next two seasons by increasing the opening temperature to 26 degrees, reducing the season length and reducing operating hours during the school term” and that Council “defer any future non-essential expenditure at Foster Pool until the proposed 2016/17 review of the Strategic Direction for Aquatic Facilities in South Gippsland is completed”.

It is vital that this gets passed, said Ian Lyon, as only then – with the pool allowed to stay open, even if it is at this stage for only two years – can long-term future options for the pool be discussed and Foster Pool given a fighting chance to survive, and hopefully thrive.