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How hard is it to renovate a swimming pool?

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Freestyling towards a running joke, North Sydney Council will have spent six years and nearly eight months rebuilding its famous and historic Olympic pool complex beside Sydney Harbour if its latest guesstimate holds.

The $89 million revamp has been delayed yet again. This time, the roof frame over the 25-metre indoor pool had to be pulled down after design and construction problems were detected in the steel structure.

Construction is continuing at North Sydney pool.Credit: Wolter Peeters

“It’s really disappointing that these issues are continuing to arise. That said, I’m confident [the council and external project managers] will be able to manage the project to completion,” North Sydney mayor Zoe Baker said.

Which begs the question, why has civic building become a lost art? Councils once did these things with style, panache – and punctuality.

Compare and contrast North Sydney Council’s chronic failure to meet its own deadlines with its predecessor. In 1936, North Sydney Council took less than a year to build and open the Rudder and Grout-designed pool on a former construction site for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It became the most famous pool in Depression-era Australia and helped foster Australia’s dominance as a swimming nation. Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose, Lorraine Crapp, Ilsa Konrads and Shane Gould all swam to glory there. Eighty-six world records were set in its blue waters between 1953 and 1978.

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It was a new kind of civic, public building, both popular and cause for civic pride. But the plan to overhaul the landmark has been mired in controversy over ballooning costs, delays and arguments about its scale, design and heritage impact.

The rebuild was mooted in 2015 when the council lobbied the then-Baird government during the state election campaign hoping the project had pork barrel potential. It didn’t, but in November 2017, the council passed a mayoral minute titled “Finally fix our pool”, setting the project in motion by committing to a design dubbed option two, for an estimated $28 million. From there, the cost exploded; first to $58 million and then $89 million. Work started in 2021 but the completion date kept inching into the future too; 2022 became 2023 and then 2024 when the council promised last May that next April would be a goer. Now it’s next July.

The Sydney Opera House took 14 years to build after the first sod was turned but, as the Herald’s Sydney editor Michael Koziol noted when North Sydney announced another delay this year, the late unlamented Sydney Monorail, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Titanic all took less time than the pool to come to fruition.



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