Much to the community’s dismay – although perhaps not so much on a day like today – it’s looking increasingly unlikely Phillip Pool will open its doors anytime soon.
That’s because its operators are battling against unseasonably wet weather, making it impossible to complete the necessary maintenance.
Manager John Raut, who has worked at the pool for more than 40 years, said it had been a frustrating few months with the rain.
“You just have to look out the window … we’re pumping 20,000 gallons of water out from under the pool because the water table is so high,” he told Region.
“The concrete isn’t dry and the paint has now been sitting here for 10 weeks. We’ve blasted 85 per cent of the pool away and if we put the paint down now it’s just going to blister and come off.
“Normally we start painting in September and have it all ready by November, but we just haven’t been able to do it … you need 10 dry days in a row for the slab to dry out.”
Mr Raut said it wasn’t just his facility battling the wild weather, noting major construction jobs in Woden were also behind due to the rain.
Last year, COVID-19 lockdowns and associated uncertainty scuppered Mr Raut’s reopening plans, and the pool remained closed last summer after it was granted an exemption by the ACT Government to do so.
It’s understood that same exemption has not been granted for the second year in a row.
In a statement, a government spokesperson said the operator is expected to comply with the lease terms and open as soon as possible.
“We have been advised that the operator is undertaking remediation work,” the spokesperson said.
“The government will consider further options if the pool does not open in the near future.”
The Territory government has stressed the facility is privately run, not owned by the government.
Sports Minister Yvette Berry earlier this year rejected a petition from Woden residents calling on the government to “fix” the pool.
She told the ACT Legislative Assembly in March the operation of the pool was a matter for its owners, but the government did expect it to be open for this summer and beyond.
“While the closure of the swimming pool for the 2021-22 summer season is unfortunate, the ACT is well catered for when it comes to the provision of public and private aquatic facilities,” Ms Berry said.
The pool’s closure is much to the disappointment of Woden Valley Community Council president Fiona Carrick who said the pool is an important asset.
“Social infrastructure is being lost in Woden. We lost our basketball courts and the pool isn’t looking good. It’s just not a good outcome for the region,” she said.
“Outdoor pools are great places for people of all ages and backgrounds to get together and have fun … you don’t quite see it at the indoor pools.
“There’s just a particular need for outdoor activities.”
Ms Carrick is urging the government to actually take action and step in to ensure the viability of the centre.
“The pool was built by the Commonwealth before the ACT Government sold it in 2008, and now they have no interest in it,” she said.
“The government should intervene and commit to providing swimming services to this very central, accessible part of Canberra.”
Longer-term questions about the complex’s future have been raised, particularly after the government backed a proposal for a twin-sheet ice skating facility to be constructed in Tuggeranong.
Mr Raut told Region last year that if this was built it could sound the death knell for the Woden rink, but he reserved further comment on the matter, saying this had been proposed many times.
A 2017 parliamentary inquiry also heard from the pool’s lessee, Dr Wayne Houghton from Glencora Pty Ltd, who expressed concerns about apartment blocks enclosing the pool and leading to privacy issues.
He told the inquiry the facilities were nearing the end of their life.
Region‘s attempts to contact Dr Houghton for further comment have been unsuccessful.