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‘Unsaveable’: Council to fund demolition of ‘hideous’ Adelaide Aquatic Centre

Adelaide City Council is set to approve $20m in ratepayer funds to demolish the Adelaide Aquatic Centre and restore surrounding park lands, after the Lord Mayor labelled the existing facility “unsaveable, unrepairable and unusable” amid plans for a new facility.

Jun 21, 2023, updated Jun 22, 2023
The soon-to-be demolished Adelaide Aquatic Centre. Photo: City of Adelaide/Facebook

The soon-to-be demolished Adelaide Aquatic Centre. Photo: City of Adelaide/Facebook

The Malinauskas Government earlier this month released concept designs for its election pledge to build a new Adelaide Aquatic Centre in North Adelaide.

The plan will require the existing council-owned Adelaide Aquatic Centre to close in August 2024 for demolition.

The indoor swim facility opened in 1985 and now costs council more than $1m each year to operate, with the majority of users coming from outside the Adelaide City Council area.

The new Aquatic Centre, scheduled to open in December 2025, will be built in the south-western quadrant of Denise Norton Park/Pardipardinyilla (Park 2) near the corner of Jeffcott Road and Barton Terrace West.

The current Adelaide Aquatic Centre. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Concept plans for the new Adelaide Aquatic Centre. Photo: SA Govt/supplied

The state budget allocated $135m for the project – $55m more than first anticipated – to ensure the new centre is “appropriately scoped” with extra features not included in the original plans.

The state government has asked Adelaide City Council to fund the demolition of the old Aquatic Centre and to restore an oval within Park 2 so it can lodge development plans with the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP) in July.

Councillors were told at a committee meeting on Tuesday night that a $20m commitment would be required, including $10m for demolition, $5m in contingency for “latent conditions and contamination” and $3m for the new playing field and landscaping.

The $20m would be a “maximum funding contribution” and not expended until 2024/25, with any unused funds to return to council’s general revenue.

“Council may recall in previous reports we had cost estimates some years ago of between $6 and $8 million for (demolition),” Ilia Houridis, Adelaide City Council director, city shaping, told councillors on Tuesday.

“So we’re allowing (cost) escalation and also contingency should there be latent conditions under the ground and there’s a requirement for greater soil removal than anticipated.”

Council’s City Finance and Governance committee voted to recommend council approve the funding commitment at its next meeting – despite opposition from Deputy Lord Mayor Phillip Martin and South Ward councillor Keiran Snape as well as an attempt by South Ward councillor Henry Davis to delay the decision.

The Adelaide Aquatic Centre costs city council more than $1m a year to operate. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Councillors have raised concerns about the current state of the Aquatic Centre’s indoor facilities. Photo: City of Adelaide/Facebook

Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith argued council have an “obligation” to demolish the building, remediate the site and restore the surrounding park lands.

“People say (the Aquatic Centre’s) an asset – it’s actually a liability,” she said.

“It’s still our building which I’ve swum in now for more decades than I’d like to mention but when I first swum in it, it was an outdoor pool.

“It was an ill-designed outdoor pool when I first swam in it, and it’s had bits joined around the edge so it’s grown like topsy.

It is a hideous, oversized development that uses up too much for the benefit it gives.

“It needs to be demolished because it’s unsaveable, it’s unrepairable, it is unusable and it’s a liability – and it’s our liability.”

Lomax-Smith also highlighted her previous attempts to lobby for an upgrade of the Adelaide Aquatic Centre when Lord Mayor from 1997 to 2000.

In 2009, the Rann Government settled on building a $100m State Aquatic Centre in Marion, rather than Adelaide, which changed the Adelaide Aquatic Centre’s role from a high-level swimming events centre to a community-based service provider.

“There’s history here that people don’t seem to acknowledge,” Lomax-Smith said.

“In the last century, this building was already dilapidated, and I remember as Lord Mayor I was lobbying to get some funding to upgrade. Finally, the state government decided to build a state aquatic centre here and this council blocked it – they didn’t want a state aquatic centre.

“So it got more and more degenerate, it got more and more dilapidated, it got concrete cancer.

“Now we’re arguing about the demolition and the redesign of the landscape – I just think that we have to get on with it and be grateful the state government has listened to the residents and moved the site.

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“I’m very happy to criticise governments – and I do it happily – but this is a good outcome for the city.”

The state government released concept plans for the new Adelaide Aquatic Centre on June 10. The facility will feature a 50-metre, 10-lane indoor pool and a 25-metre, six-lane outdoor pool with lagoon. Photo: SA Govt/supplied

Deputy Lord Mayor Martin argued against the funding commitment and suggested – to groans from other councillors – that the previous council could have stomached the operating losses and run the existing aquatic centre “for another 25 years, perhaps even 30 or 40”.

“I and the people I represent are by and large annoyed that the council is consenting to the project as it stands,” he said.

“There’s a huge car park expansion which we know about – it’s up 108 spaces to 375 – and what stings more than anything is that council is preparing to pay the state $20 million to prepare its own asset, which is valued at $21 million.

“I’m reading to you what my community is saying and as much as we might want to dismiss it, these are our stakeholders, these are the ratepayers, and they’re saying that they see that as being a valueless proposition for them.

“In many ways, if the former council had been prepared to consider carrying the losses of five or six-hundred thousand a year, we could have continued to operate the centre for another 25 years, perhaps even 30 or 40.”

The new aquatic centre will feature waterslides, splash zones, BBQs and lawned areas. It will also have a gym and facilities along with a spa, sauna and steam room. Photo: SA Govt/supplied

South Ward councillor Snape argued council did not have a commitment to fund the project.

He suggested the state government should have explored a brownfield site for the new centre, rather than park lands.

“If the state government wants to go ahead and do this, they can go ahead and pay for the redevelopment, they can go ahead and pay for the whole lot,” he said.

“I do support the… state government taking this from our hands and doing something new and different – I just don’t support the location.

“I just think this state government’s got a very narrow minded focus when it comes to the park lands and we are the last bastion when it comes to that.”

But Central Ward councillor Simon Hou argued if council did not contribute to the new facility, it would risk repeating its mistakes of the past.

“The pool is dying – it is not an asset it is a liability. We lost even a $1 million a year even before COVID,” he said.

“It is so fortunate now that the state government is taking over the liability and we are off the hook.

“The Lord Mayor you are absolutely correct: we don’t like to muck around again and let the state government build it somewhere (else).

“We already missed out on the opportunity… over 10 years ago and they build the pool in Marion.

We don’t want the state government to turn around and try to build this thing in Hazelwood Park, in Burnside, we’d like them to do it here.

The state government says the new Aquatic Centre will result in 1000-square metres of extra open space being created in North Adelaide’s Park 2 once the project is completed.

It also agreed to increase the setback of the facility from Barton Terrace West from 40-metres to 70-metres to “[enhance] its connectivity with the park lands while improving the amenity for residents”.

The Department of Infrastructure and Transport intends to commence preliminary works on the new facility in September.

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