Monday, 25 June 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

A new pool for Whitianga - what would it take?

When Thames Coromandel District Council released their draft Long Term Plan 2018 - 2028 earlier this year and proposed the development of a district- funded “sub-regional” aquatic centre in Thames at a cost of $21.1 million, the trustees of the Mercury Bay Community Swimming Pool Trust (MBCSPT) were dismayed.

The trust is responsible for the management and upkeep of the pool at Mercury Bay Area School. TCDC contributes $40,000 per year to the running costs of the pool. The pool is at moment open from approximately Labour Weekend to Easter. The general public cannot use the pool during school hours.

“We’ve approached the Mercury Bay Community Board in July last year with a request for $30,000 a year extra to keep the pool open for longer in the year,” says Jenny Collier, one of the MBCSPT trustees. “We also need a pool cover and heat pumps to achieve that. We were happy to fundraise for the cover and the heat pumps. The extra money we’ve requested were to cover our additional operating costs, including lifeguard wages and chemicals.

“While we were waiting for the Community Board to get back to us, longer than seven months at that time, the draft Long Term Plan came out. Here we were, waiting to hear back regarding a mere $30,000 per year and Thames was getting, at the expense of all property owners on the Coromandel, a state-of-the-art facility, complete with spa pools and hydro slides.

“By the way, we still haven’t formally heard from the Community Board regarding our request.”

A district-funded aquatic facility in Thames would have meant a rates increase of $130 per year for all Mercury Bay ratepayers.

The wider Mercury Bay community was also not impressed with the proposal. The Hahei Residents and Ratepayers Association requested TCDC to explain their reasoning in writing and at a public meeting hosted by TCDC staff members on 5 April in Whitianga about the draft Long Term Plan, there was significant resistance against the proposal.

The existing public swimming pool in Thames has a remaining lifespan of less than 10 years. It was clear at the 5 April meeting that the people of Mercury Bay had no issue with Thames getting a new pool, but they weren’t prepared to pay for it. Questions were also asked about what it would take for Whitianga to get a new pool.

In the draft LTP there was mention that a new “like-for-like” 25m pool in Thames, in a building of its own, would cost $11.7 million to build. If the Thames ratepayers were to fund the construction and operating costs of the pool without the assistance of any other Coromandel property owners, they would see their rates increase by $477 per year.

“Our pool in Whitianga also has a remaining lifespan of less than 10 years,” says Sandra Fitzsimons, another MBCSPT trustee. “In fact, at the moment there’s a crack in the pool. It can be fixed, but are their bigger problems to come? If TCDC was willing to spend more than $21 million on an aquatic centre in Thames, wouldn’t it have been a better use of pretty much the same amount of money to build two pools similar to what is in Thames at the moment, one in Thames and one in Whitianga?

“A brand new aquatic centre is to open in Wanaka in two weeks’ time. The centre has an eight lane 25m lap pool, a learn-to-swim pool and a spa pool. The centre cost $12.28 million to build. If all of the construction costs were loan funded, Wanaka ratepayers, approximately the same number as the ratepayers in Mercury Bay, would have faced a rates increase of approximately $220 per year. The rates increase would have covered operating costs as well.”

TCDC announced the week before last that they have completed their deliberations on the draft Long Term Plan and that investigations into a replacement pool for Thames, which have already begun, will continue. Pool facilities in other parts of the Coromandel will also be considered.

The decision doesn’t mean that Thames will not be getting a “sub-regional” aquatic centre, but pools in other towns will now also be considered. No final decisions will be taken before the next draft TCDC Long Term Plan (2021 - 2031) is released.

Whitianga has a compelling case for a new pool. Mercury Bay is the only area on the Coromandel that’s growing and because of the area’s distance from the southern boundary of the Peninsula, very few Mercury Bay residents will ever travel to Thames to swim.

TCDC confirmed to the Hahei Residents and Ratepayers Association that they assumed residents from the wider Mercury Bay area use the existing Thames pool on average 3,000 times per year when they proposed the construction of a district-funded aquatic centre in Thames. On inquiry from The Informer, TCDC said Go Kiwi Shuttles used to transport up to 14 swimmers twice a week to Thames to swim and the Hot Water Beach lifeguards and Dive Zone Whitianga are regular users of the pool.

TCDC’s assumption is way off the mark. Go Kiwi indeed put on a bus three winters ago to take swimmers to Thames, but only once a week. What started out with about 12 swimmers, soon dwindled to four and after two school terms, the service was discontinued. Approximately 12 Hot Water Beach lifeguards use the Thames pool once a week for six weeks prior to start of the patrol season every year, Dive Zone Whitianga barely makes use of the pool as they use the pool at Thames High School and this past summer 48 MBAS students used the pool once to participate in Thames Valley swimming competitions.

TCDC will struggle to justify Mercury Bay residents using the existing Thames pool on average more than 300 times per year.

TCDC has also told to The Informer that if it’s assumed that a new pool in Whitianga would cost $11.7 million to build, the same as what a “like-for-like” pool in Thames would cost, and the construction costs and operating expenses were to be funded locally by all Mercury Bay ratepayers, then all Mercury Bay property owners would face a rates increase of $293 per year. Its’s significantly less than what Thames ratepayers would pay as Mercury Bay has more rateable properties.

“A new swimming pool in Whitianga can happen,” says Tony Fox, TCDC councillor and Whitianga resident. “But it would mean a significant rates increase. Funding from other sources would realistically have to be obtained to keep the rates increase reasonable. It’s one thing that would carefully have to be looked into before any concrete decisions are being taken over the next few years.”

And while everyone is waiting for the concrete decisions to be taken, let’s hope the MBCSPT hear formally from the Mercury Bay Community Board regarding their request for more money to keep the swimming pool at MBAS open for longer.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.