Wodonga ratepayers should demand cash

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OPINION: Wodonga ratepayers should demand a rebate for not having an outdoor pool this summer.

Tallangatta with about 1000 people has a pool. Tangambalanga and Kiewa with about 700 people between them have one, too.

But Wodonga is dry, an indoor pool designed for lap swimmers and learn-to-swim classes the only option.

After years of debate about location, cost and complexity of a new pool the councillors shut the city’s only outdoor pool with no guarantee its $11 million replacement would be ready for summer.

Mayor Mark Byatt was quizzed about it at the time.

He trotted out the line that it was in the hands of the contractors — their responsibility to meet the then December 1 deadline.

The excuse didn’t cut the mustard then and, as the Border swelters through a run of days of plus-40 degrees, it doesn’t now.

There should have been a contingency; someone at the council table should have argued the “what if?”.

Few construction programs run to time and the time-frame around the pool was always tight.

When Zauner Constructions was announced the winning contractor more than a year ago the council’s own discussion papers claimed work would begin immediately; for various reasons it didn’t.

The project was said to be a 10-month build but there was no assurance the deadline would be met.

So with no certainty, no exact date for a start, the council pushed ahead with its plans to shut the old pool.

The pool land was for sale, still is, part of the council’s policy of off-loading surplus property.

It hopes to make about $1.6 million — they certainly would have lost that in goodwill this summer.

And so deadlines have come and gone, the latest guess for the White Box Rise pool, sometime in late February.

A private firm that pulled a service like this without a back-up plan would be hung out to dry — preferably in Saturday’s 42-degree heat.

But what will happen to Wodonga Council?

Only two of the previous council argued against the sale of the land and the closure of Stanley Street pool.

But neither Ed Foulston nor Angela Collins survived the last election.

The now closed pool was built in part to save lives — to stop people being forced to swim in the often dangerous creeks and rivers.

But this decision, that is unlikely to see a pool open this summer, is driving people back to the rivers.

Others are going to the Albury pool or are headed to the smaller regional towns that can still offer some respite from the heat.

It is a sad indictment on the decision makers who preferred to use a contractor as a scapegoat rather than face up to reality that there needed to be a fall-back position, a contingency that allowed a city of 35,000 people to still have access to an outdoor pool.

They will no doubt argue the cost of gearing up the old pool was too great.

I would argue that the loss of face in the community now far outweighs that monetary burden.

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