Olympian does laps in tiny pool at Bainesse School
Olympic swimmer Lauren Boyle has dived into a cause close to her heart – saving school pools.
Boyle swam laps at the 13-metre long Bainesse School pool in Manawatu on Thursday as part of a campaign highlighting the importance of children learning how to swim.
"Swimming lessons are really expensive, so if kids can have that at their schools ... it's really important for their safety," Boyle said.
"You don't have to be Olympic swimmers – just being able to swim 20 metres or so can save their lives."
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The fight to save a school pool bears an ongoing burden, say Manawatu principals, but it's worth it to have kids who can swim.
Rongotea School principal John Elliot said funding for pools had to come from schools' general budgets, so often went in the too-hard basket.
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills said 156 school pools had permanently closed around the country in the past six years, and another 130 were at risk, largely because of maintenance costs.
Expensive repairs have been an added burden for rural schools like Rongotea and Dannevirke High School. The schools have had to seek help from the community to raise over $150,000 each to repair their pools.
Elliot said it was testament to the Rongotea community's commitment to keeping their pool that they'd managed to raise $120,000 in the past seven months.
Ministry of Education acting head of infrastructure services Rob Gillar said the ministry did not fund pools directly but provided schools with an annual operations grant, and a lump sum every five years that could be used for maintenance and essential infrastructure, including pools.
Even that indirect funding for pools was problematic, Elliot said.
"You do [have discretion], but you have to justify to the ministry why you're using the money for the pool and not something else."
Bainesse School principal Carwyn Caffell said Ministry of Education funds for the school pool were "a pittance as far as maintenance costs go".
The pool was invaluable for the whole school community, and well used for class lessons during summer, for fun during lunchtime, for after-school lessons, and by families who paid to have a key.
Terrace End principal Sue Allomes said her school reduced funding for other activities, so missed out on an all-weather court, to keep their pool going.
"We think it's important children learn to swim. so we've made it a priority to keep the pool open."
Parkland School principal Peter Barnett said Parkland filled in its pool in 2009, and bused students to Freyberg High School and the Lido Aquatic Centre for swimming lessons.
He said the cost of paying for the use of those pools and travel had now grown to almost the same amount it had cost to maintain their own pool.
Elliot said busing students into town was particularly unsustainable for rural schools.
Boyle said she first decided to become a serious swimmer after taking part in school swimming sports.
Bainesse School pupil Alyssa Tufuga, 9, said she was impressed at Boyle's speed.
"It's really pretty cool to see. I love swimming; we do it most days in summer."