Pools in Hepburn Shire will open as usual for the first weekend in December subject to any State Government COVID restrictions in place at the time. Pools will be closed on days when the forecast temperature is 21°C or less.

Entry to pools will be free again for season 2020/21 as it was last summer. Council has decided that the substantial increase in pool use last summer justified the much higher cost to Council of running the pools.

COVID restrictions

Bradley Thomas, Director of Community and Corporate Services for the Shire said, “We are working through how we might allocate time slots so that we can accommodate as many people as possible, especially on hot days, while also being COVID safe and adhering to restrictions.”

Current State Government rules restrict entries to 50 people at the pool at any one time. While some outdoor pools have opened for lap swimming and squad training only, there is actually no stipulation which restricts the type of activity. Pool play and recreational swimming are allowed under current rules.

“We might need to have a booking system, or at least a system to record the names and contact details of users of the pools for COVID tracing if this was required. We are looking at systems used at other pools and will make the process as easy as possible,” Mr Thomas said.

Increased pool use last season

Shire pools had a substantial increase in patronage last season largely due to the free entry. Last summer there were over 25,000 visits to all Shire pools compared to just over 8,000 in each of the previous two seasons. This was despite the fact that the pools were closed for about 28 days last season because of cool weather.

“We conducted a survey at the end of the season to get feedback from both pool users and staff, said Mr Thomas. “ The feedback we received was extremely positive from both groups. A number of pool users expressed their gratitude to Council for the free entry as they had not used the pool previously due to the cost.”

Operating costs increase

The total cost to council for staffing and maintenance of pools last summer was $493,000 compared to $282,000 the previous year. This increased cost was due in part to a large investment in maintenance ($97,000) and the loss of revenue from entry fees.

This represents a cost to Council of $19.59 per visit to the Shire pools. This is a decrease from $24.30 per visit in the previous year. On average, each resident in Hepburn Shire visited a Shire pool 1.6 times last season and each residential ratepayer contributed $64.92 to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the pools.

By comparison, Kyneton Sport and Aquatic Centre, an indoor aquatics and recreation facility used by many Daylesford and Hepburn residents, welcomes 220,000 visitors per year and has an annual operating deficit of $330,000 requiring a council subsidy of $1.50 per visit.

Jim Foster, Treasurer of the Daylesford Indoor Aquatic Centre, said, “A comparison of the cost of running the Hepburn Shire pools with the Kyneton centre makes it clear that an indoor aquatics facility makes much more sense in terms of the operating costs and the benefits to the community. Our analysis indicates that with state-of-the-art energy technologies and a good operating model, an indoor aquatics facility in Daylesford could run on a break-even basis.”

Hepburn Shire Council is partnering with the State Government in the development of a 10+ year Aquatics Strategy and will engage a qualified consultant to undertake the strategy in the coming months. Presumably the costs of maintaining and operating existing facilities versus the costs of operating a new indoor facility will be considered as part of the review.