Is the Munis Pool dead in the water?

DANIEL ADAMS
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2013
Munis Pools, Hamilton
Kelly Hodel/Fairfax NZ

FADED GLORY: The Munis Pools have been used by generations of Hamilton families.

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Supporters of Hamilton's crumbling Municipal Pool are treading water, although not in the lightly chlorinated, warm embrace they've been without for nearly two years.

As the barred and worn-out Victoria St complex awaits its fate, the city rushes past, and shiny new buildings thrust skywards nearby.

It is the city's forgotten oasis, a sanctuary from Hamilton's past, whose advocates have been fighting a rearguard action against its demolition even as they plan for its future.

But whether it even has a future as a pool remains unknown, and 19 months and counting after its doors closed to the public, tangible progress is hard to find.

The complex has suffered from years of maintenance neglect by the council and closed last year after a series of mechanical and structural failings.

Municipal's supporters also last year unveiled a $6.8 million plan that may yet save the much-loved but often overlooked central-city pool complex.

Their efforts to fundraise the millions of dollars to rebuild it have been knee-capped by the lack of committed council funding.

Pools lobby group Sink or Swim and city architect Mark Wassung's concept plan would see the century-old pools renovated and rebuilt in three major stages, the first estimated to cost $4.1m.

The city council last December passed up the chance to commit to a rescue package for the pools, instead deferring a decision until February 2014 and asking supporters to come up with a funding plan.

In a telling sign of their determination, they did. Stage one includes demolition of the existing large pool, considered beyond repair, and the development of new changing rooms, office space, green space and relocation of the existing plant, with a projected cost of $4.1m plus GST.

Stage two would involve the construction of a new 25-metre pool suitable for junior swimming education, construction of a cafe or restaurant and a grandstand upgrade, costing a further $1.4m.

Stage three includes boutique office space next to the pools and the Celebrating Age Centre, at an estimated cost of $1.3m.

But Sink or Swim spokesperson Katherine Luketina says potential external funders for the pools have balked at contributing without a council commitment.

"It's a council facility and, without council funding, external funders will not fund it to any extent," she said earlier this year.

However, Hamilton City Council, faced with a clamour from schools and the city's northeast over water space, too, has also been determined - to wait for an over-arching regional sports facilities plan due shortly, to give politicians the "big picture".

The Waikato Mayoral Forum last year asked Sport Waikato to lead the development of the Waikato Regional Sports Facilities Plan.

Eleven councils are completing a stocktake of their recreational facilities and analysing how well they are used. This data capture is due to be compiled by the end of the month and is overseen by a project control group and a technical working group.

The plan is to be presented to the city council in April and will complete the first stage in the planning of Waikato sport and recreation facilities,city council staff say.

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Included will be a prioritised list of the region's current and future recreational facility needs.

It's almost certain to undermine the case for retaining some facilities and bolster the standing of others.

Sport Waikato head Matthew Cooper says the project control group is collecting and analysing data. "We'll then begin shaping a plan based on ‘informed need' that will provide direction around existing and future sporting facilities across the Waikato region," he said.

The final report with recommendations will guide decisions in terms of upgrading existing facilities, developing new facilities, encouraging shared facilities and "decommissioning or disinvesting unused facilities". The last will have municipal pool supporters' attention, come April.

In the meantime, Luketina says Sink or Swim has been working behind the scenes as the new council bedded in and the review of sporting facilities was carried out. They are regularly lobbying councillors and Sport Waikato.

The group is aware of pushes by several city secondary schools to partner with the council to provide swimming space for the schools and public.

But Luketina says the city's partner pools programme, also under review, "can never fully address the needs of the swimming public because it only gives access to swimming clubs, which only cater to youth swimmers, and provides very limited opportunity for community access."

"It does not address the needs of the individual adult lane swimmers, of which Hamilton has many, or the needs of schools for somewhere to have their swimming sports, or the needs of the inner-city workers and dwellers."

Their aim is simple: raise funds in partnership with the city council to get the pools refurbished "so the people of Hamilton can enjoy their city asset".

Outsiders may wonder why the council is considering levelling a central city pool at the same time it is ramping up incentives and rule changes to persuade more people to live in the central business district.

Certainly, that apparent contradiction is not lost on several councillors who have expressed support for the pools complex in the past.

City council lawyers have already advised that public consultation would be required on any plans for the future of the municipal pools.

- Waikato Times

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