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School Swimming Pool Closures Rising

School Swimming Pool Closures Rising
November 4, 2009

Hundreds of school swimming pools have closed in New Zealand in the past five years, due to schools having no room in their operational grants to maintain them.

With 80 school pools set to close this year, new research from Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) shows that too few children can swim and that teachers are calling for better training and more pools. WSNZ adds that a quarter of Year Six students can't tread water or swim 25 metres.

As WSNZ Manager Matt Claridge explains, "our drowning toll is twice that of Australia's (and) without children learning to swim, there is no way we can actively reduce that drowning toll over the long term to a level that we should be comfortable with."

Schools throughout New Zealand are facing increasingly strict health and safety regulations governing the use of swimming pools, with many old style pools requiring upgrading.

The Ministry of Education says three quarters of all schools are funded to maintain a pool and those without one can use their operational grant to get children to a pool.

One exception to the trend has seen the Eastern and Central Community Trust donate $15,000 to Carterton School and Opaki School near Masterton toward the cost of pool repairs.

The Trust's donation's assessor Raewynne Jacobs said both pools were used by the community but were cracked and in need of major work with the Opaki pool being in such poor condition that it cannot be used until it is upgraded.

Carterton School Principal Alison Woollard said maintaining pools was costly for schools but swimming lessons were vital for pupils and Carterton was determined to try to find the money to save its pool. The community has been fundraising for more than a year, and the grant and financial commitment from the school's board would cover the more than $30,000 needed to upgrade it.

As Woollard explains, "we have been limping along year to year doing patch-up jobs ... wondering just how long we can save the pool, but the school's board has made a commitment that we will retain the facility for as long we can."

As West Spreydon School in Christchurch, the pool needs expensive repairs to stop it from closing, School board member Duane Major stating that "to date we have done a good job maintaining the pool, but we have been told that we need to recondition the pool and bring it up to speed and its going to take upward of $150,000.

"The pool is a major focus for the community and where kids learn about water safety, but the 22 metre pool is 70-years-old and is just hanging in there. It has no heating, it leaks and the facilities need replacing.

And for Principal Marriene Langton, any money spent on the pool is money that could be spent on books or computers.

"We have to work out how much money we are going to put into curriculum, how much we are going to put into support staff," explains Langton, "iIf we put a lot more money into the pool that means we can't employ people to work with the children."

Matt Claridge believes that "the education system is the best means for children to learn how to swim and survive, so water safety skills are grown at that age. Ideally kids do that through a pool at their own school, or a school pool in close proximity."
In Christchurch, 50 schools are using the City Council's pools, but the pools are close to being fully-booked and cannot keep up with demand.

"It's our strong belief that there are a number of kids in Christchurch who aren't getting water safety tuition, who aren't learning to swim," says John Filsell from the Christchurch City Council, adding "there are also a number of kids who are getting partially-trained, maybe enough to give them confidence in the water, but not to get them out of danger should they get into danger."


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