IN TOUGH economic times, recreational facilities are under the microscope both in the South Gippsland and Bass Coast shire councils’ budgets. Pools in particular are hot topics with Phillip Island’s dream of having its own public aquatic centre seemingly drifting further away, while the Mirboo North and Poowong communities are battling to save their existing facilities as the infrastructure ages. The Bass Coast Shire Council purchased land in Cowes specifically for recreation purposes two years ago.
It provided the hard-working members of the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre Fund with some real hope that their years of planning and fundraising would be rewarded. The group, formed in 2000, has raised $150,000, of which half is in a trust fund. The balance has been spent on required reports and feasibility studies. But it could all be for nothing with the council now indicating it won’t have the funds for the next 15 to 20 years. This is a ridiculous position to adopt given that there are numerous sources of potential Commonwealth and State government funding. For example, has the shire even put in an application for funding from Round 5 of the Regional Development Australia Fund where grants of up to $500,000 are available – closing date July 22, 2013. Baw Baw Shire was successful in Round Three getting $500,000 plus they also got $3 million from the State. Granted, it could cost $10 million-plus but are we even in the race?
While the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre Fund committee has held up its end of the bargain, projected costs continue to blow out. To make matters worse, the Wonthaggi aquatic centre needs a full overhaul. Cr Clare Le Serve in her Mayor’s Message this week explains the costs of such facilities in attempt to justify the council’s position. She used the City of Casey’s $38 million Casey RACE aquatic centre built in 2009 as an example of how expensive such facilities can be. Yes, indeed, Casey RACE is an impressive facility with its water slides, 50m lap pool, warm water pool, leisure pools, spa, sauna and steam areas, etc, but the people of Bass Coast aren’t pinning their hopes on something of that scale for either Wonthaggi or Cowes.
They just want something where they can teach their kids to swim, for goodness sake! Bass Coast does many things right when it comes to recreational facilities. The playing surfaces of its ovals are amazing, and new plans for a bike path from San Remo to Anderson, linking up with the rail trail to Wonthaggi, should also be applauded. In the case of an aquatic centre at Cowes, though, the Island community has every right to feel duded, not necessarily by this council which has severe budget restraints due to the $4 million unfunded super scheme, but by councils past. This present council, however, can set things right in this four year term by making a firm commitment to a facility that would be extremely well-patronised by all sections of the community. Cowes is not just around the corner from Wonthaggi, and it has an ageing population. One aquatic centre at Wonthaggi simply does not meet the needs of all.
Editor Nathan Johnston