IN A clear show of support for their local pool, more than 70 members of the Foster community crowded into the Foster Golf Club on Monday evening for a meeting to discuss the pool’s future.
There was general agreement that the pool was a valuable asset for the community and some excitement as ideas to improve the facility were floated, such as heating the pool or setting up a cafe with the golf club next door. However, an air of frustration took hold of the meeting as the shire councillors present, Mayor Jim Fawcett in particular, made clear just how reluctant Council is to go on supporting all six pools it currently has on its books.
The meeting was called by members of the Foster Pool Section 86 committee which looks after the pool (in recent years largely in an advisory role, with YMCA until recently the appointed managers) on behalf of South Gippsland Shire Council. The Rotary Club was well represented, along with Foster Community Association, the principal and teachers from Foster Primary School, Crs Jim Fawcett and Cr Mohya Davies (a Foster resident), and a fair cross-section of the Foster populace.
Pool committee president Lisa Barham-Lomax began with a potted history of the recent history of the pool and the reasons behind the call for action.
Dropping attendance figures and over-budget operational costs (under YMCA’s costly administration) led to the cash-strapped Council calling for a review of Foster pool instead of the promised Master Plan. The pool committee undertook a community survey which found huge support for the pool even among people who don’t use it. Many recognise its importance for local school children learning to swim. At their meeting in April, a narrow majority of shire councillors agreed to keep Foster Pool open for another season, with the Foster community instructed to let Council know by December what future they envisage for the management of the pool.
The pool committee, said Ian Lyon, took this as an invitation to plan for the long-term future of the pool, in effect have the community write the master plan the shire abandoned in favour of the review of Foster Pool.
“Our mission is to come up with a strategy for the next 10 or so years,” he exhorted the meeting. He recommended a planning group be set up under the leadership of a coordinator, with sub-groups to look at a heating source, structural design options, grants funding, schools programs, health programs, collaboration with the golf club, integration with other user groups and report preparation. Some people have already volunteered for positions on the planning group. Mr Lyon invited others to nominate. He said that he and Ms Barham-Lomax had their hands full as members of the Section 86 pool committee and would not be standing, but he urged others with useful skills, such as engineering, to nominate. There will also be the opportunity to join the pool committee, which will be holding its AGM in July.
At this point Cr Fawcett put a dampener on proceedings by insisting that what the Foster community should be doing rather than planning for the long-term future of a cold water pool which Council saw little future in was establishing the pool’s governance in the short term. “You need to say to Council loud and clear what you, the community, want to do about managing the pool,” said Cr Fawcett, addressing the meeting. “That should be your priority.”
To a general murmur of assent, Mr Lyon said that he rather thought that was clear by the presence of so many at the meeting. He said that the pool committee was keen to re-establish community management of the pool, which it had done so profitably until the YMCA took over, but the shire would not allow this. The committee, he said, recently challenged Council to allow it to run the pool with the same budget as it did three summers ago, with the guarantee there would be no cost overruns. Council, however, was insisting on putting management of all the unheated outdoor pools under the one umbrella and was advertising the tender accordingly.
A number of questions and comments from the floor gave vent to the frustration many were feeling about the uphill battle to make Foster Pool a viable operation.
After it was reiterated that the pool will only open next summer when the temperature reaches 26 degrees, an exasperated Linda Giddy burst out with: “The whole thing is designed for the pool to fail.”
John Davies had a sober message for the meeting, pointing out that there are nine councillors who have to be persuaded that Foster Pool is worth saving. Without the support of a majority of councillors, nothing the Foster community does will matter. It all boils down to their votes. Food for thought indeed.