Drama surrounds reopening of Lismore Memorial Baths
IT'S been a long journey to fix the Lismore Memorial Baths after the March flood but with just days until it reopens, controversy surrounds who can and can't use the pool.
The pool has been closed for eight months and Lismore City Council has undertaken close to $1 million worth of flood repairs and future flood mitigation measures.
But new pool regulations introduced by the council could "destroy" a 90-year-old swimming club.
The Lismore Workers Swim Team is run by volunteers and has swimmers of all ages and abilities.
However the new council rules propose to ban team participants who are over 18 and swimmers who can't competently swim 100m.
Upon the re-opening, swim clubs will also have to front extra costs including a $10 an hour per lane hire, on top of entry fees.
Lismore Workers Swim Team members said they were shocked and outraged by the proposed changes, and president Jody Everson said it could spell the end of the club.
"Lismore City Council is currently trying to ruin our 90-year-old swim club with a contract that is unworkable for our club and will ruin us financially within a year," she said.
The club has around 50 members, but some of the committee believe more than half of participants would be excluded from using the pool under the new regulations.
This includes 13-year-old Ben Auckram, who is in a wheelchair, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a multi-class swimmer and breaking 95 swimming records.
Ms Everson said for many the club was "an opportunity to achieve great things, for others it is a great social sport that allows you to meet new people and enjoy yourself in a supportive environment."
"Under the new rules that Lismore City Council wish to impose on our club, Ben could have never have started his swimming journey with us," she said.
"Ben can now swim 100m of each stroke but has worked so very hard to get to where he is today."
Ms Everson said the club was being "held to ransom" and was not able to use the pool until the contract from the council is signed.
The council's manager of major recreation and cultural facilities, Tony Duffy, said the days were gone when council could afford to let groups use council facilities for free.
"Running costs continue to escalate, electricity being a good example of that, and council simply cannot continue to absorb these rising costs," he said.
"Most sporting organisations these days are required to pay for facilities or sporting hire, and we have tried to be fair in the prices we have set."
He said the costs were heavily subsidised, and the agreements will come into effect with all swim clubs who use Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre and the Lismore Memorial Baths.
Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith said the council used to "provide everything for free".
"Council used to provide pools, baths for free, provide everything for free but we know council needs to maintain a lot of roads and parks ... the costs have to be born by the people who use it," he said.
Cr Smith admitted the council did not want to have a swim club that clashed with its own commercial operations.
"Because council runs learn to swim programs there's not much point in us costing ratepayers money by introducing competitors to our own swim learning program," he said.
"The requirement by both Lismore swim teams is if someone is on the swim team, they should be able to swim 100m competently."