Schools Struggling to Save Pools

15/03/2015

Seven school pools in Dunedin are at risk of closing because the schools cannot afford to maintain them. At least 156 school pools in New Zealand have closed since 2008 and Water Safety New Zealand has launched a Givealittle page in an effort to ensure no more close. Samantha McPherson takes a closer look.

They love swimming and rely heavily on lessons they are given at school.

Portobello School, Dunedin North Intermediate, Macandrew Bay, Wakari School and three others, which did not wish to be named, are seven of 30 throughout the country, from a range of deciles, that have contacted Water Safety New Zealand for financial help because their school pools are at risk.

Portobello School principal Winnie Cornelissen said the best place for pupils to learn water safety skills and how to swim to survive was in a school pool. But it comes at a cost of about $7000 per year. The grant the school receives from the Ministry of Education is $400 per year.

''School pools are at risk because schools and communities can't afford to maintain them when things go wrong. No matter where kids live, they are not far from water,'' she said.

In the past five years, 630 people drowned in New Zealand. Of these, 41 were in Otago.

At least 156 school pools have closed since 2008, which is why Water Safety NZ has launched a Givealittle page to ensure no more close.

''We have more Otago schools on the list than any other region. School pools are a valuable resource. Many schools do not have the time or funds to travel to community pools. School pools are the most efficient option. We want to ensure no more school pools close,'' Water Safety NZ Chief Executive Officer Matt Claridge said.

Under the ministry's current policy, schools do not receive any additional funding towards their swimming pool. It is a cost that comes out of their operations grant. The ministry does not provide pools in new schools or fund the replacement of pools at the end of their economic life.

''These schools have exhausted all options. They've fundraised, sold keys and allocated what they can from their annual ministry budgets. There are simply not enough funds to go around. We are in talks with the Ministry of Education about their current pool funding policy and we are hoping for changes in this area,'' Mr Claridge said.

Mrs Cornelissen said while the pool was an ''important facility'', which come at an ''expense'' to the school.

''The community fundraised to put in heating. There were a lot of summer days where it was far too cold to use. That is indicative of how much the community cares about the availability of the pool. I don't think kids would get anywhere near the amount of swimming that they get here if we didn't have a school pool,'' she said.

Ministry of Education head of education infrastructure service Kim Shannon said schools without pools were encouraged to use a nearby community or council-owned facility.

''Swimming pools require significant initial capital investment, and the cost of ongoing maintenance and operation is very high. The ministry provides funding through the operations grant which can be used to either run and maintain an existing pool ... or to pay for entry charges and transport costs to a local community pool. Schools can also use their five-yearly capital funding to upgrade school-owned pools and they also have access to additional maintenance funding.

''When schools use community swimming pools more frequently and pay access fees, community swimming pools can use those access fees to fund facility upgrades. This results in better swimming facilities for everyone,'' she said.

To make a donation visit: givealittle.co.nz/cause/saveourschoolpools.

Source: Otago Daily Times - Samantha McPherson