ARARAT - Ararat's 55 year old Outdoor Olympic Swimming Pool will be permanently closed and demolished, despite an almost two year campaign by the community to have it restored to a useful facility.
In what was an emotion charged Ararat Rural City Council meeting on Tuesday night, the majority of councillors cited the cost of the redevelopment, which would have a direct effect on future rate rises, as the reason for voting against redeveloping the pool.
Councillors Gwenda Allgood and Gary Hull were the only two councillors who voted against the pool's permanent closure.
Cr Hull did indicate he was against redevelopment and reopening the pool, however, did not agree with its demolition.
The motion agreed to by Council also included an option to develop a water play facility for the area instead.
Council agreed in May to wait until tender figures had been returned before making any decision on the future of the pool.
Design and cost estimates carried out by Etch Architects in May put the cost of the project as $2,905,156.
Tenders received for the works ranged from $2,677,967 to $3,085,940.
Council officers reported that on the basis of the lowest tender price constituting a conforming tender, the total project cost, allowing for office and kiosk fit out, project management costs for Council staff and external architectural supervision amounted to $2,782,967.
A number of local businesses had shown their willingness to contribute to in-kind works, and all tenderers indicated their willingness to work with the community through an in-kind arrangement to deliver the project.
Initial estimates showed a possible reduction in the overall cost through in-kind works in the order of $150,000, however, council officers believed this figure to be conservative and estimated savings in the order of $222,873 could be achievable, meaning the final contract figure could be reduced to $2,560, 094.
With community and business contributions totalling $210,000 and Council already allocating $450,000 to the project, the funding shortfall was $1.9 million, which would have resulted in council having to take out a loan for this amount.
Ongoing operational costs, including servicing the loan and maintenance of the pool, would mean average annual costs over five years of $469,964.78, which councillors said on Tuesday night would equate to a more than four per cent rate rise on top of the general rate rise each year for the next five years.
Mayor Cr Ian Wilson gave all councillors the opportunity to speak about the pool and said there was no doubt about the emotion around the issue of the pool.
"But this proposal here equates to just over a four per cent rate increase - the annual operating cost of that facility over the next five years would be a 4.4 per cent rate increase," he said.
"The only way we could fund that as a responsible council is to pass that direct cost onto the ratepayers of Ararat. And by listening to the ratepayers, listening to the concerns raised when introducing the six per cent rate increase this year - to put another four per cent plus on top of that is just not sustainable."
Cr Fay Hull said as councillors they would love to be able to restore the pool to its former glory.
"However, we live in very different times and we must take into account many factors in making decisions," she said.
"I am yet to be convinced that refurbishment of the pool provides sufficient benefit to the wider community to justify such a significant rise in rates for our ratepayers."
Cr Colin McKenzie said in all his time on Council he had never seen any project that council had developed, researched better or more thoroughly or over a longer period to present the facts of where to head in the future.
"But to proceed with this we really are putting our municipality in a very sincere unsustainable position," he said.
While agreeing that the pool project was unsustainable, Cr Gary Hull was not in support of demolishing the pool.
"I'd like to see it left there because who knows if there's a cash cow around the corner with the state elections coming up," he said.
"We can't foresee that, but at present we know the pool is going to cost that amount of money, because that's a hard fact and I think the community will understand that. I'm a big supporter of the pool, Ararat needs a big pool, but I think four percent rate rises at the moment people just can't afford."
Cr Ian Harris said a new multi -use facility (similar to that proposed at Kokoda Park in recent years) was the best option for Ararat.
"If council can get itself together and work together and work with people like you (the pool committee and community) we can go back and work on this greenfield site and you'll have a new pool - a pool you can use throughout the year," he said.
"It's not a pipe dream and I certainly will be doing everything I can to pursue that."
In deliberating over his decision, Cr Paul Hooper said his overriding consideration was always of the community's capacity to pay.
"I ask myself the question does the renewal of the outdoor pool pass the amenity/social benefit versus the equity/affordability/usage test?" he said.
"I have thought deeply about this decision and I know that I will disappoint many people with the stand that I have taken.
"I cannot after deep reflection burden our community with an additional rate over the next 10 years of 4.25 per cent."
In voicing her objection to closing the pool permanently, Cr Gwenda Allgood said she was devastated.
"I've sat around this table for 30 years and for 30 years I've heard different councillors around this table put this issue off," she said.
"And I just think for the time and effort you've (pool committee and community) all put in you should be congratulated.
"I feel absolutely devastated for you and I feel responsible because over these 30 years I've stood here I haven't been able to convince anybody of the importance of that pool."
Cr Harris said he moved that the pool be closed and demolished 'with no apology'.
"I think it's the first step towards council finding a new alternative and I think that alternative has got to be for the benefit for the community for the swimming club and all of the people," he said.
In speaking against the motion, Cr Allgood said she was absolutely appalled at the situation of demolishing the pool.
"If I have ever stood here and seen a backwards step taken at this council, tonight is the night that this has actually happened," she said.
For more on the Ararat Olympic Pool issue, including the Save our Pool committee's response to the announcement - See Tuesday's Ararat Advertiser.
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