Axe taken to planned sports centre

A Government document released to Newsroom reveals the paring back being considered for a planned Christchurch swimming and indoor sports centre. David Williams reports.

Christchurch’s new pool complex might not comply with international rules for hosting swim meets if cost-saving measures being considered by the Government and city council are adopted.

An internal document from Crown rebuild agency Ōtākaro document, sent to Christchurch Rebuild Minister Megan Woods and released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act, lists 37 cost-cutting initiatives being considered for the yet-to-be-built metro sports facility. It’s unclear how many have Ōtākaro’s backing.

Changes could include removing architectural features and scrapping some proposed uses, potentially triggering a substantial redesign of the building – which would mean more delays. Other cost-cutting measures might reduce the pool’s compliance with facility rules set by FINA, the world governing body for swimming, diving and water pool.

The document warns the city council would object to some moves, while others could increase the building’s running costs. Woods’ spokesman says: “Everything’s on the table.”

Swimming Canterbury West Coast’s chairman Wayne Rollinson is worried by the cost-cutting drive. “I’m surprised by the information you’ve got, to be honest. That again proves to me that Ōtākaro has not been in complete contact with all the sports, particularly the number-one sports.”

Years of delays

The metro sports centre was one of 16 anchor projects announced by the previous government in 2012. It was meant to be built within four years. But it was only in September 2016 that Ōtākaro released its preliminary design for the “world-class” facility, featuring a 50-metre competition swimming pool, a separate diving pool, 1000 spectator seats, and nine indoor courts, for netball and basketball.

After last year’s general election, the Government tore up an early contract with Leighs Cockram Joint Venture Ltd after what she called a $75 million budget blowout, to an estimated $321 million. After only weeks in the job, Woods directed officials to urgently review options, including the possibility of the metro sports facility and a multi-purpose stadium being built on the same site.

A KPMG report, released publicly last month, recommended the two facilities be built on separate sites. However, that recommendation assumed “each option can be delivered within an affordable budget” and came after strong feedback from sporting and community groups. The report said council and Crown officials believed the two facilities were “not affordable” at their current estimated cost. Ōtākaro is working with the Christchurch City Council to finalise costs and building schedules for two projects, with an announcement scheduled to be made in the middle of next month.

(A lot rides on the stadium’s cost, which is likely to have a bearing on the size, shape and functionality of the metro sports facility. According to a report released last August, the preferred option for a new stadium will cost almost $500 million, and feature a steel roof, retractable field and seat up to 30,000 people.)

The axe hovers

The Ōtākaro document released to Newsroom, dated February 15, notes that any change requiring a significant redesign of the metro sports centre might delay the opening date and increase costs – “the magnitude of which can only be assessed once design implications are understood”. The Crown agency signalled to the minister if it supported each initiative, but that has been redacted.

Features potentially for the chop include the high performance sports centre and a shared administration area for regional sport, external landscaping, an outside water feature, childcare facility, birthday party room, the building’s front-facing canopy, a cultural wall and the requirement to meet FINA dive pool rules.

It has been suggested pool-side spectator seats be replaced with timber battens. All across the centre, there’s consideration of removing internal glazing, blinds and skylights – even a delay in installing swimming pool covers – which would push up electricity costs.

Delays have been suggested for the construction of two of five hydroslides.

Some items are paired with strong comments. “Not assessed” because of fundamental problems were suggestions of taking out the regional sports administration hub and the requirement to meet FINA dive pool rules. Deleting the show court rigging and interior glazing between pool halls were “unlikely to be acceptable to CCC”. Removing the high performance centre and a birthday party room would trigger a “substantial facility redesign”.

OIA Otakaro 180309 by David Williams on Scribd

After the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the South Island was left with just two 50-metre competition pools, in Dunedin and Invercargill.

Speaking from Argentina, Swimming Canterbury West Coast’s Rollinson says the metro sports centre was meant to be world-class. But after the change of Government and the cost-cutting drive, he’s not confident the facility will deliver what his sport needs – especially for national meets.

“It’s not going to be the best pool in New Zealand – it’s just another pool.

“I think too many people have got a focus around trying to deliver a water-sports centre for all water users, instead of saying, what do we actually need for the individual sports and then perhaps look at leisure as a secondary option.”

Other cost-cutting suggestions he has made are deleting an access ramp to the 50-metre pool and re-thinking the depth of the diving pool.

The lack of a 50-metre pool in Canterbury is devastating for competitive swimmers, he says.

“We’ve got families that are paying significant dollars to keep their kids in the sport, and it’s harder to actually keep kids interested in our sport because you haven’t got those big competitions in the area.”

High Performance Sport New Zealand’s chief executive Michael Scott couldn’t be reached for comment.

Drive to get value for money

Asked last week about the final design of the metro sports facility, Woods said a range of options were being considered and work had been incredibly constructive.

“These are huge amounts of money and we need to be thinking about whether we’re spending them to get the best value for the city. What I’m really impressed by is the energy that everyone’s bringing to that project about working constructively together and really intent on making sure that we get the best value for the city.”

In an emailed statement, acting Christchurch city Mayor Andrew Turner says the council and Crown have made significant investments in the recovery and rebuild of Christchurch and they want to reduce costs to ensure they get the best value for money. He says the “key drivers” remain: to ensure the affordability of projects, including capital, operational and whole of life costs; accelerate completion; deliver increased benefits; and minimise risks and generate wider positive benefits.

A $38.6 million QEII recreation and sport centre, including a 25-metre pool, should be open in Christchurc h by the middle of this year. Meanwhile, the city council plans to build a $35.7 million facility, including a pool, at Hornby, and is consulting the public over a new $21 million indoor swimming pool proposed for Linwood.

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