OPINION: The 5 millionth visit has been recorded at Invercargill's Splash Palace. That is a thoroughly pleasing statistic, though this is one facility that is most precious for a non-statistic.
A figure we will never, ever know.
How many people are still among us because they haven't drowned? At some crucial moment they have been able to swim to safety. Or perhaps someone, trained at the palace, has come to their aid.
Maybe there's another group as well. People who have fended off coronaries and other health conditions that arise through the extraordinary capacity for indolence and inertia of modern life, with all its passive entertainments.
And if life and health aren't significant enough on their own, there's also the small matter of fun.
The cavortings in the wave pool, the wooshing laughter at the exit to the water slide, the squealing pleasure of the tots in the tiny toddlers' pool, the dive-tower heroics and even the recent aqua zumba, for goodness' sake, offer real rewards for funsters.
The pool has been open for 15 years, though of course older residents will remember the heydays of the Conon St baths (as folk called them back then) and the Coldstream pool, the home of the city's first waterslide.
Each was valuable and enjoyed by the community, albeit without the range of entertainments that Splash Palace has offered with its wave pool, spa pool and steam room.
Mayor Tim Shadbolt was entitled to recall that when the palace opened in 1997 it was only after a series of controversies, including its location and budget.
And, we might add, its name. Chosen, at the time, as a pun on the Roger Donaldson movie Smash Palace it was a lighthearted title to which more than a few people reacted crossly. By any standard, that moniker has withstood the test of time.
The new facility wasn't without sabre-toothed teething problems - for one thing, it leaked - and it quickly became apparent that the lack of a dedicated learners' pool was a serious omission. That was rectified in 2005, thanks mostly to the support of the Invercargill Licensing Trust, without whom etc etc . . .
That learners' pool, augmenting the 50m main pool, has done sterling service, with instruction available from the facility's own staff, and local swimming clubs, and the host of schools that make use of the palace. (Those that don't should be periodically challenged on this by their pupils and the parents).
By any reasonable measure, Splash Palace has been performing the services that the community would have hoped of it. There must, of course, be limits and it's hardly surprising that the 2008 proposal to develop a $10m to $15m whitewater park next to it promptly went down the plughole.
More modest improvements have occurred, for all that, including the new heating system installed this year. It has the twin virtues of being cleaner and warmer - increasing the temperature in the leisure pool by a single degree to 32 degrees Celsius.
Spartans may disapprove of such pandering, but the kids and older swimmers do seem to appreciate it.
- The Southland Times
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