Closures of school pools worries swimming professionals
Tue, 10 Feb 2009 12:00a.m.
Twenty-seven people have drowned in New Zealand so far this year - eight more than the same time last year and the highest number of recreational drownings since 1994.
With the start new school year, in what is a traditional time for children to learn how to swim, many pools are struggling to keep their pools open because of rising costs. Now swimming professionals are worried as to how bad it is going to get.
"By international comparisons our drowning toll is twice that of Australia's," says Water Safety New Zealand manager Matt Claridge. "Without children learning to swim, there is no way we can actively reduce that drowning toll over the long term to a level that we should be comfortable with."
Eighty school pools are disappearing every year, making the costs of maintaining school pools and keeping them open too expensive.
West Spreydon School in Christchurch is one of the lucky ones, While it has its own pool, it is old and needs expensive repairs to stop it from closing.
"To date we have done a good job maintaining the pool, but we have been told that we need to recondition the pool and bring it up to speed and its going to take upward of $150,000," says West Spreydon School board member Duane Major.
The pool is a major focus for the community and where kids learn about water safety, but the 22 metre pool is 70-years-old and is just hanging in there. It has no heating, it leaks and the facilities need replacing.
And for principal Marriene Langton, any money spent on the pool is money that could be spent on books or computers.
"We have to work out how much money we are going to put into curriculum, how much we are going to put into support staff," she says. "If we put a lot more money into the pool that means we can't employ people to work with the children."
The struggle like that of West Speydon School to keep their pool operating is a big concern for Water Safety New Zealand when it comes to learning to swim.
"It's a big concern," Mr Claridge says. "The education system is the best means for children to learn how to swim and survive, so water safety skills are grown at that age. Ideally kids do that through a pool at their own school, or a school pool in close proximity."
In Christchurch the city council pools help fill the gaps. Fifty schools are using the public pools, but even these are full and cannot keep up with demand.
"It's our strong belief that there are a number of kids in Christchurch who aren't getting water safety tuition, who aren't learning to swim," says John Filsell from the Christchurch City Council. There are also a number of kids who are getting partially-trained, maybe enough to give them confidence in the water, but not to get them out of danger should they get into danger."
If West Spreydon School want to keep their pool open, it will be most likely be up to community to raise the money required.
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11/02/2009 9:56:46 a.m.
Perhaps NZ has a higher drowning toll than OZ because we have more access to water than they do being a bigger and more inland country....Just a thought.
11/02/2009 9:40:10 a.m.
Do schools need swimming pools? They are typically small, and solar heated. I remember freezing every time we got in the pool at primary. Never had a swimming pool in high school, that just meant, and means now for schools down here also that don't have pools that they go to the local community pool. I think that is a better options and gives schools more money that would otherwise have to go on the maintenance of a pool.
10/02/2009 8:33:46 p.m.
Kirsty, Christchurch wrote:
"As an aquatics professional I find it really disturbing. My first reaction is a more steely resolve to fix it, indeed my reaction as a person and as a father is that it's an absolute tragedy" so says CCC Recreation and Sports manager John Filsell. Well New Zealand, Mr Filsell and his Council cronies "steely resolve" was sadly lacking when they demolished our much loved and well used local pool rather than properly investigating ways of repairing it or replacing it AND despite vocal community opposition and commitment to its retention. Where do the children of the St Albans community learn to swim now Mr Filsell? If their parents can't afford private lessons or the key to the school pool over summer their opportunities are severely diminished. THAT is a "tragedy" waiting to happen. BUT obviously dollars and cents matter more than lives!! What a Hypocrite!!
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