Work has officially begun on establishing a $22.5m national aquatics centre on Auckland's North Shore.
Capable of hosting major events, including the world championships and Commonwealth Games, Minister of Sport Murray McCully led a ceremonial sod-turning at Mairangi Bay's Millennium Institute yesterday evening.
Scheduled for completion in July 2014, the majority of the multi-million dollar project has been footed by Auckland ratepayers with $13m put forward through the former North Shore City Council and the subsequent Auckland Council 'Super City'.
Philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn, whom the facility will be named after, has kicked in $2.5m.
The remaining $7m has been found through a combination of the New Zealand government, Lion Foundation and the Millennium Institute and AUT Trust.
The 4000-seater facility will feature an Olympic-sized 50m pool and also a 25m warm-up pool, catering for a variety of aquatic codes including water polo and surf life-saving.
Full excavation begins in two weeks but last night McCully, Auckland Mayor Len Brown, Millennium Institute CEO Mike Stanley and Glenn donned hard hats to break the ground of the site by spade.
McCully said that while swimming has not been a decorated Olympic code for New Zealand, failing to win an Olympic medal since Danyon Loader's double gold from the Atlanta Games in 1996, the amount of medals on offer in the pool at a major Games means swimming must remain a priority for investment.
"This new aquatics centre is part of a strategy to make sure New Zealand is, on a very regular basis, the best in the world, on a per-capita basis, in Olympic performances," Mully said.
"It's a pretty ambitious goal, but one that we think is achievable.
"There's no doubt in my mind that unless we step up in facilities and the services we place in them we're not going to be in the top three regularly.
"Some might be asking 'why does swimming get a place in the strategy when it hasn't been an outstanding success story?'
"The answer to that is quite simple. There are 102 medals awarded at the Olympic Games in swimming alone. If we want to be world leaders at the Olympic Games then we have to perform in swimming."
The venue will sit alongside the existing 50m pool at the Millennium Institute and other facilities at the institute created through $60m in government and philanthropic funding.
- © Fairfax NZ News