WELLINGTON Shire Council’s offer of a free swim in the wake of a reduction in pool opening hours and an unpopular ‘temperature trigger’ of 25 degrees has left some users feeling short changed.
To mark the opening of the swimming season today, the council is offering free entry to outdoor pools in Heyfield, Maffra, Sale, Rosedale, Stratford and Yarram from 3.30pm to 7pm.
But a temperature trigger introduced last year will remain in place, after data showed that fewer people used outdoor pools when the temperature dropped below 25 degrees Celsius.
Council’s community and culture general manager Glenys Butler said the policy aimed to improve service, with the pools to be open longer on days of highest demand.
She said an analysis of the three previous swimming seasons showed the majority of swimmers attended their local outdoor pools when the temperature was 25 degrees or more.
“To enable our outdoor pools to be open for longer on hot days, it was important we made changes to the way we operate in cooler weather,” Ms Butler said.
“Paying staff to run the pools on cold days when there are no swimmers doesn’t make economic sense.
“We would much rather have the pools open for longer on days when the weather is hot.”
But the move is being seen by some as a reduction in services.
Maffra Memorial Pool user and regular lap swimmer Jo O’Doherty said she had used the pool for more than 30 years and had witnessed a “steady decline in opening hours in recent years”.
The shire’s outdoors pools are opening two to four weeks later than previous years, and the new temperature trigger means there will be no guaranteed opening hours in afternoons.
Ms O’Doherty said lap swimmers were further disadvantaged by being prevented from using the pool in between school bookings because there was only one council-employed lifeguard present.
“As a shift worker I regularly swim at this time and see many other regular lap swimmers who are shift workers, retirees, workers who start early and students,” she said.
“These afternoon hours are important, as not everybody is able to swim during the guaranteed morning hours of 6am to 8am.”
The temperature trigger means there could potentially be 15 weekend days when the Maffra pool will not open, and if it is, it may only open for extended hours for 58 of the 108 possible opening days. There could be 36 weekdays when the pool might only be open from 6am to 8am.
Ms O’Doherty said she and other lap swimmers were calling on the council to reinstate the afternoon guaranteed opening hours for outdoor pools in the shire, to encourage “its residents to maintain a healthy lifestyle”.
“Residents of these smaller towns do not have the convenience of swimming in the indoor pool when the outdoor pool is closed like Sale swimmers do,” she said.
The opening hours also drew criticism on the Aqua Energy Facebook page, one pool user saying “there are a lot of unhappy people in Stratford”.
“The cost of a season pass is ok, however if it’s not open every day over the school holidays then the price should be reduced,” she said.
“If you want more people to spend money there then add coffee and tea and different food options other than just junk food .
“Install a barbecue so [families] will buy or cook lunch or dinner there instead of going home to eat.
“Think about ways to up your profit instead of down-sizing.”
She also pointed out Bureau of Meteorology readings were taken from Sale, not Stratford, and therefore were not accurate for the township.
“Yes, I am still very annoyed,” she added.
Another swimmer who posted said one of the best times to swim was when the temperature was 20 to 24 degrees after a couple of 30-plus days.
“Water is great and not to (sic) much nasty sun, but sorry folks not available.
“It just gets worse every year.”
Sale Swimming Club president Tony Anderson said he would be disappointed if the reduced afternoon opening hours affected the club’s 100-plus members.
“We will wait and see what the full impact is,” he said.
Council’s Aqua Energy Facebook page will also post information daily about whether the outdoor pools will be open, depending on the forecast.