Scaffolding replaced water at Kawakawa Community Pool while a structurally unsound roof was repaired. Photo / Peter de Graaf
The Far North’s only public indoor pool is due to re-open in May after a three-month closure was triggered when part of the roof fell off and hit a staff member.
The closure of Kawakawa
Community Pool left recreational swimmers and aqua therapy groups without a place to swim — and forced Bay of Islands Swimming Club members to train for next month’s national champs in outdoor pools, which grow colder by the day.
There’s good news for pool users, however, with roof repairs completed and a potential re-opening less than two weeks away.
Sport Northland spaces and places manager Stu Middleton said the pool closed in early February after a roof bracing rod fell off during cleaning.
The staff member struck by the rod did not require medical treatment, but the facility was closed while the cause was investigated.
Engineers found the roof bracing had not been installed correctly when the pool was first built, making it structurally unsafe.
A new type of bracing was needed, so plans had to be drawn up and the pool was drained so scaffolding could be erected inside the building.
As well as replacing the bracing, workers applied rust-proofing, installed brighter lights to meet health and safety requirements and replaced faulty fire alarm systems.
Middleton said work on the roof was completed last Thursday, with scaffolding dismantled on Friday and Saturday and the pool lines repainted on Monday.
Timing of the next steps hinged on a Far North District Council inspection due to take place yesterday.
Refilling could begin once the council gave the green light. That would take up to three days, with more time needed to heat the water and get the plant up and running.
Sport Northland originally hoped to have the pool open in time for the start of the school term, but that had been pushed out to a target date of May 8.
Middleton acknowledged the length of the closure would seem a long time for swimming club members training for the nationals.
“But from what we uncovered and the process we’ve had to follow, we couldn’t have got it done any faster.”
Kerikeri’s outdoor pool was kept open beyond the usual Easter closing date so swimmers had somewhere to train while the Kawakawa pool was closed.
“It’s not perfect. You don’t want to swim outside when the temperature starts to drop. But at least there’s a pool available.”
A report in 2013 recommended closing Kawakawa’s public pool and building a new facility in Kerikeri.
That rallied the Kawakawa community, which set about fundraising and holding working bees to revamp the then-run-down pool complex.
It was re-opened as Kawakawa Community Pool in 2015 with Sport Northland as the new owner, though the land is owned by the Ministry of Education.
Day-to-day operation of the pool is contracted out to the Kaitāia-based Community Business and Environment Centre (CBEC) in partnership with Australian pool management company Belgravia Leisure.
CBEC provides staff such as lifeguards, while Belgravia provides back-end systems and expertise.
Far North District Council provides an operating subsidy to make sure entry fees stay affordable.
Middleton said Sport Northland had been forced to step in to keep the pool open.
“We took it on because if we didn’t, it could have been bowled and there would have been no facility for the community.”
The council also paid a “small amount” each year for maintenance. Sport Northland had tried supplementing that with outside funding, but that was proving difficult in the current economic climate.
The total cost of the roof repair project was about $160,000.
Sport Northland had about $80,000 of unspent maintenance funds accrued over the past three years. It would advance the rest from the next three years’ worth of council funding.
Middleton said the problems with the roof may have been found in an inspection due later this year. That would have allowed more warning of the closure and better planning so it didn’t coincide with preparation for the national championships.
A council spokesman said the pool received an annual operating grant of $307,000, plus $27,000 per year for maintenance. The maintenance money could be rolled over to the next financial year if not spent.
Kaitāia’s 1950′s outdoor pool closed down at the end of summer. It is due to be replaced by a new pool complex when Te Hiku Sport Hub opens in September.
‘It’s freezing’: Bay swimmers battle cold as they train for nationals
Membership at Bay of Islands Swimming Club has plummeted, and parents have had to splash out on wetsuits since the Far North’s only indoor pool closed for urgent roof repairs.
The closure of Kawakawa Community Pool in February means the club’s swimmers, aged nine to 16, have had to prepare for next month’s national champs in Kerikeri’s outdoor pool instead.
The Kerikeri pool normally closes at Easter, but it’s been kept open for a few days a week so the kids can keep training.
Even with a wetsuit, 15-year-old Sascha Bell, of Kerikeri, said swimming in an outdoor pool in late April was “freezing”.
“We’re all training for the nationals. It was going well until the pool closed,” she said.
Paihia’s Sebastian Mottl, also 15, said the cold put him off training.
“The sessions feel longer because you’re constantly thinking about when you’ll be able to get out.”
Meydi Bell, the club’s vice-chairwoman, said membership had plunged from more than 140 members to about 80 since the closure.
Parents of the remaining swimmers had bought wetsuits, but the kids still got cold and sick.
“It’s so frustrating … The kids haven’t been training properly and they feel they’re not prepared for the nationals. They were doing so great until February,” Bell said.
Whangārei’s pool was mostly fully booked and, in any case, it was a return trip of more than two hours for most members — or double that for the club’s Doubtless Bay swimmers.
The Kawakawa pool’s complicated structure, with so many different organisations involved, had made it hard to get consistent information about what was happening and when it would re-open.
Club chairman George Hawke said the committee had “worked their butts off” to build up the club and find qualified coaches in recent years.
He felt sorry for the coaches because they were “forever running around” trying to find ways to keep the kids swimming.
“This is a valuable time of year for training. Our kids are doing well, but not as good as they could be.”
Ultimately, Northland needed a second 50-metre, eight-lane pool to meet the demand for recreational and competitive swimming, Hawke said.
Currently, the only 50m pool north of Auckland is in Dargaville, though that’s also outdoors.
”We need another pool. There’s no two ways about it,” he said.