ARARAT - Save our Pool committee members were devastated by Ararat Rural City Council's decision to close and demolish the Ararat Olympic Swimming Pool, but after an overwhelming community backlash they believe 'the pool's not sunk yet'.
Almost two years ago, after the pool was closed by council for safety reasons, Ambrose Cashin and Maddy Vernon called a public meeting at Alexandra Oval to ascertain if there was community support for keeping the pool open.
That meeting was attended by more than 1000 people, after which the Save our Pool committee was formed.
Council originally said the cost of a redevelopment would be in the vicinity of $4.1 million, however, the committee worked with council officers and Etch Architects to bring down that cost.
After putting the project to tender the cost came in at $2.5 million, however, part of this involved a $1.9 million loan and ongoing costs of more than $469,964.78 each year, which council at last Tuesday's meeting was not prepared to commit to.
Mr Cashin said the committee was devastated by council's decision.
"It was very disappointing, the result of the meeting, and it was probably more disappointing the attitude we're perceiving from the councillors," Mr Cashin said.
Mr Cashin said on the Friday previous to the meeting the Council meeting agenda was released to the public, outlining the report on the pool and over the weekend the committee worked on ways to reduce the costs even further.
He said the committee came up with further cost savings of $300,000.
The committee then sent an email to every councillor asking them to delay the decision until the October council meeting so within the next month the committee could outline the cost savings and ideas for exploring further funding options.
"Not one councillor returned the email," Mr Cashin said.
"So obviously consultation to the council means shaking your hand as they show you out the door, not sitting around the table and discussing it."
Ms Vernon said that this was particularly disappointing.
"We were under the understanding that our relationship with council was transparent and for us to find out the figure (of the pool tender) with the rest of the public is pretty disheartening," she said.
"I would like to have known when they knew."
Disappointment at the lack of consultation in the past few weeks still rankles with the committee.
"We've gone all the way in good faith and spoke with them and come up with ideas," Mr Cashin said.
"Surely it would only be reasonable after a two year period, one month more wouldn't have killed them and it would have given confidence to the community that it's a transparent field.
"Am I mistaken, is the council elected to represent the community or do they get elected to dictate to the community what they are going to have?
"It is a tough gig the councillors have got, but they've chosen to step up and represent the community."
Comments made by an angry Cr Gwenda Allgood indicated that councillors, in closed meetings prior to the public council meeting, had been 'joking' about what else could be put in place of the pool.
"What really upset the members of the Olympic pool committee who have been working very hard, it's come out in the council chambers that they were laughing about the decision," Mr Cashin said.
Ms Vernon said this was really disheartening.
"It makes you question the effort you've put in to then hear them joke about it. I felt really mocked," she said.
On Tuesday night when the committee left the council meeting members were gutted, however, by Wednesday lunch time the community backlash gave them renewed hope.
"The public's reaction has been really empowering, to push through the devastation," Ms Vernon said.
Mr Cashin said on Wednesday night he would have received 30 to 50 phone calls and dozens of texts telling the committee 'not to give up'.
But it is through social media that the message spread like wildfire.
The Ararat Advertiser's own Facebook page attracted 117 comments in 24 hours and reached more than 7000 people, while a Facebook page set up by the Save our Pool committee received more than 1100 likes.
A white ribbon campaign has also begun, with thousands of white ribbons already tied to the pool fence.
Mr Cashin said in the 24 hours after the meeting, the community began demanding something be done and that the committee continue the fight.
Through social media, a rally has been organised for this Saturday at the Ararat War Memorial at 10.30am.
"They've taken it out of our hands," Ms Vernon said.
"We wouldn't have gone down without a fight anyway but to have that support behind it is great."
Mr Cashin stressed that the community has driven the rally, and it is not being organised by the committee, however, committee members will be at the rally to answer questions.
"So if the community really want it, it is very important that significant numbers turn up and show the councillors," Mr Cashin said.
While the committee want to retain the integrity of their relationship with Council, Mr Cashin said by the same token council needed to know that the community was angry.
The committee believes that Council may not be aware of the outcry over Facebook and encouraged everyone to write or email council voicing their concerns.
"If they can take five minutes out of their day to put it on Facebook they can take five minutes out of their day to write to Council," Ms Vernon said.
"The five minutes they spend on the email could potentially affect the future of the pool."
Mr Cashin said while the rally is being held on AFL grand final day, it is at 10.30am, to give everyone the opportunity to attend
"If they haven't got time to do that they really haven't got time to support the pool and they cannot complain if it doesn't go any further after Saturday," he said.
For Ararat Rural City councillor and Save our Pool committee reactions to the pool decision - See pages 4 and 5.