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Outdoor seasonal pools under ongoing threats
Facing ageing plant and equipment, maintenance issues and decreasing attendances, outdoor seasonal swimming pools in regional Australia are under threat.
While communities are supporting their ongoing provision and highlighting the wider benefits of these pools, councils are implementing strategies to reduce their operational costs.
Consultant and current Chair of the Australian Leisure Facilities Association (ALFA) Alexia Morgan wrote on the challenges facing seasonal pools in regional communities in the feature ‘Save our Pool’ in the March/April 2015 issue of Australasian Leisure Management.
In the feature, Morgan wrote “the seasonal outdoor pool has been part of the Australian culture for over 80 years. In Victoria alone it is estimated that between 1950 and 1980, councils built approximately 200 swimming pools.
“Swimming was seen as a natural Australian pastime and there was a need for improved infrastructure in post war communities while townships saw the building of these pools as a sign of their community’s prosperity and growth.
“The hosting of the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne also positively influenced the number of pools constructed and the sport of swimming became increasingly popular.
“Decades on and many of these seasonal outdoor pools are now in very poor condition, with pools facing having to deal with ageing plant and equipment; extensive leaking due to cracks in the pool shell or pipework; slow water turn over rates and non compliance with current standards of accessibility (Disability Discrimination Act) or Occupational Health and Safety legislation.”
In her feature, Morgan highlights that many of these facilities are also experiencing decreasing attendances with small inland townships have seen a decline in population over recent decades.
Morgan continues “in addition, the population in these smaller townships is often ageing and due to the majority of these pools being not heated or heated by solar only, these pools do not provide this ageing population with suitably warm water.
“Accessibility is also an issue with very few pools having ramp access or hoists installed, which makes the use of these pools difficult for people with mobility issues.
“Increasing operational costs are also having an impact on these pools with price increases in gas, water, electricity and pool chemicals all impacting on operating expenses and staffing costs also on the rise.
“As a result, councils have a number of options when considering management operating models for pools. Councils can elect to operate with an in-house team, appoint contract management agencies or seek voluntary committees of management. Each of these management options have both positive and negative aspects.
“Seasonal pools also compete with larger aquatic and recreation centres which operate all year round. These centres are able to offer patrons a more complete recreational experience with additional facilities such as gymnasiums, group fitness programs, warm water pools and active water play spaces.”
Morgan’s article explains how many councils have implemented strategies to reduce operational costs of these seasonal pools.
She continues “some Councils have installed solar to assist with reduction of electricity costs, while other options have included reduced hours of operation, shorter opening seasons and/or only opening when key temperatures are reached.
“Overall many councils are facing the difficult combination of rising expenditure, declining income and an increasing need for capital investment.
“With subsidies per visit calculated at a range of between $5 and $50 in rural townships, some councils are considering the closure of these outdoor seasonal pools.
“However, these pools still provide a valuable service to their local communities (providing) the community with physical benefits through recreational swimming, mental health benefits and community connectedness through social gatherings.
“The operation of public swimming pools in remote indigenous communities shows dramatic increases in community health - as was reported in an Australian Government Department of Health report in 2004.”
With many facilities facing closure, Morgan highlights how the removal of aquatic and recreational facilities reduces the opportunity for people to be active.
She adds “closure of low patronage seasonal pools will create further barriers for people to remain active (as) studies have shown that many people don’t have the time or finances to travel significant distances to participate in regular swimming activities.”
Morgan’s feature also explains that seasonal pools also play an important role in drowning prevention.
She concludes “while there doesn’t seem to be a one size fits all solution to the management and operation of outdoor seasonal pools it is important that we recognise their value and the contribution they make to public health and community connectedness.
“To aid the situation we face, Aquatics and Recreation Victoria in partnership with Sport and Recreation Victoria are currently developing guidelines for outdoor seasonal pools.”
These guidelines will cover seasonal pools operation, maintenance, retrofitting, refurbishment and rebuilding and will also contain relevant case studies and success stories to assist councils with their decision-making.
Set to be released in mid to late 2015, these guidelines aim to be a useful guide to councils who are aspiring to provide optimal aquatic and recreation experiences for the communities on a sustainable basis.
In addition to her work as a consultant and role with ALFA, Morgan is a board member of Aquatics and Recreation Victoria.
With over 20 years experience in the aquatic and recreation industry, her consultancy, Bright AM, has recently launched a new website, www.brightam.com.au
Click here to contact Bright AM via the Australasian Leisure Management Supplier Directory.
Click here to subscribe to Australasian Leisure Management and read the ‘Save our Pool’ feature.
Images show locals using the Mutitjulu Swimming Pool (middle) and protests to keep the Beresford Swimming Centre open (below).
14th January 2015 - 10 MILLION ANNUAL VISITS TO PUBLIC POOLS IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
22nd September 2014 - CASA LEISURE OPENS MUTITJULU POOL FOR ITS SECOND SEASON
11th December 2013 - PEOPLE POWER’ KEEPS NEWCASTLE POOLS OPEN
23rd October 2013 - COMMUNITY CAMPAIGN FIGHTS TO REOPEN ARARAT OLYMPIC OUTDOOR POOL
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