By Catherine Watson
May 10, 2014
DON Turner has a dream: in November 2018, the island’s residents celebrate the 150th anniversary of European settlement with the opening of a new swimming pool.
The president of the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre will find out in 11 days if his dream has any chance of coming true when councillors consider a report on whether the shire can afford two swimming pools.
This time last year the dream looked remote. In June 2013, councillors voted to put a Phillip Island aquatic centre on the backburner for another 15-20 years in favour of a $10.6 million rebuilding and extension of the Bass Coast Aquatic and Leisure Centre in Wonthaggi to meet the shire’s needs.
It was a crushing blow for Mr Turner's committee, which has worked for almost 20 years to get a public pool on the island.
“I know in Leongatha they started campaigning for a pool in 1925 and it was 1949 before they got their pool. That was an outdoor pool and now they have a beautiful indoor pool.”
Don Turner, president of the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre
Leongatha got its first public pool in the late 1940s. Wonthaggi got its pool in the early 1970s after the community raised $40,000 in a couple of years. Korumburra, Mirboo North, Foster all followed. Even Poowong, population 610 at the 2011 census, has a swimming pool. But somehow Phillip Island’s efforts have always floundered.
Rather than spit the dummy, the committee regrouped last year and have worked hard since then to overcome the obstacles to a pool and to shorten the time frame.
Their perseverance paid off in September when councillors unanimously backed a proposal to investigate funding and construction options for a pool in Cowes.They voted to use $75,000 from the design budget for the Wonthaggi pool for a study to assess the financial viability of operating two aquatic centres in the shire, funding options and delivery models, including a private public partnership under which a company would build, own and operate a centre.
The aquatic centre committee made a detailed submission in February. Meanwhile, a working group has identified a council-owned site next to the Phillip Island Leisure Centre in Cowes as a potential site for a new pool.
At their meeting on May 21, councillors will consider the financial report and the results of a survey of residents on whether the community would be prepared to pay for a second pool.
Next month, the council is expected to release a master plan for the use of land purchased on Ventnor Road for recreation and sports facilities
Mr Turner says everything is coming together at last. “Our submission has been very well received by the council. The community support not only on Phillip Island but throughout the shire has been overwhelming.”
He says they have tried to avoid the hostility, anger and even threats that characterised two recent polarising debates within the shire: about dogs on beaches; and a Cape Paterson special charge scheme.
“We have tried to be more constructive, more rational. We have talked to councillors and tried to convince them. I reckon we’re pretty close to getting four councillors to support it.”
Most of the funds raised for a pool over the past 20 years have gone on feasibility studies and consultancy reports, but there’s about $70,000 in the chest.
Once they get the nod – “whether that’s two months or 15 years” – the committee will start looking for donations and financial support from organisations such as Bendigo Bank.
Mr Turner says they’ll be aiming to raise up to $1.5 million from the community, and he doesn’t think that will be too difficult given the number of wealthy people who holiday or have business interests on the island.
What about Phillip island race track owner Lindsay Fox?
“We have approached Mr Fox recently, and he said he’s not interested at the moment because he’s fully committed. Lindsay Fox is on the backburner as far as we’re concerned.”
Lack of progress on getting a pool has been one of the major drivers of the discontent behind the Phillip Island Stand Alone campaign. Asked if getting a swimming pool would be easier if Phillip Island went it alone, Mr Turner is circumspect.
“We hope to pursue it through the current council but we’ll work with whoever is around. And we’ll work with the federal and state governments whether they’re Coalition or Labor.”