A few years ago there was a proposal to build a major aquatic facility on the foreshore in front of what is now New Acton.
It was to be a multi-purpose aquatic complex comprising an indoor 50-metre competition pool complete with enough seating to cater for significant meets, a 25-metre pool and facilities for water polo. I was never sure of the exact details as the proposal remained quite fluid in its concept, and I’m not even sure at what stage it was abandoned.
Instead, it appeared to be replaced by the new indoor facility at the ANU, which was deemed adequate for that part of Canberra.
The push for a new aquatic complex was viewed as driven, in part, by the uncertainty around the future of the Canberra Olympic Pool in Civic. This continues to be speculated upon, although the time frame to build the new Civic indoor stadium for the Raiders and the Brumbies appears to have blown out considerably.
That is just one part of Canberra’s swimming pool strategy. The other parts, it would appear, require more focus and urgent attention.
For example, the Phillip Pool, which is closed and fenced off, represents a far more worrying aspect of the overall strategy, if there is one.
Facility manager John Raut says he simply ran out of time because of the impact of COVID. The need to repaint the pool was rendered almost impossible to complete because of the lack of paint and the availability of painters. There is also a symbiotic relationship between the pool and the adjoining ice rink. These issues contributed to the current closure of the swimming pool. It would appear, though, the problems run deeper.
There is a distinct possibility the Phillip Pool may never open again. John Raut doesn’t sound overly optimistic as he highlights the dependency the pool has on the ice rink: “I don’t really know how it will all go, but it will depend on the new ice rink the government is proposing to build at Tuggeranong.
“We are not going to make any money out of the pool if we reopen,” John says.
“If you look at our trading figures for the past 10 to 15 years, the highest gross turnover for the pool was about $190,000 while the lowest for a whole season was $78,000. We can’t even get ready to prepare for the season with that kind of money. And we need staff for 14 hours a day, and it takes three people to staff.
“If that’s around $90 an hour for 14 hours a day, we’re just not making that amount of money. And it’s always had to be subsidised by the ice rink. There’s always a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year pushed into subsidising the pool to keep it going.”
There are also issues with adjoining apartments overlooking the pool, and another block is about to be built across the road.
Swimmers who would normally use Phillip have been forced to head out to Tuggeranong or the new Stromlo facility. But the lack of a pool in Woden, a centre that appears to be growing in population judging by the number of apartments being built, is failing in terms of a swimming pool strategy.
Then there is the Gungahlin Leisure Centre, which was opened with much fanfare in 2014, but is currently not open to the public. More repairs are being made to stop leaking. It was closed last summer and remains closed now.
So where to from here with two of our biggest town centres currently without a swimming pool?
Admittedly the ACT Government couldn’t have foreseen the issues currently facing the Gungahlin pool, but the problems are amplified when you consider the situation at the Phillip facility and the uncertainty over the Canberra Olympic Pool.