Million-dollar question of repair

The pool. Photos by Gregor Richardson and Stephen Jaquiery.
The pool. Photos by Gregor Richardson and Stephen Jaquiery.
The pool needs to be emptied and the tiles replaced.
The pool needs to be emptied and the tiles replaced.
The physio pool changing rooms and showers require upgrading.
The physio pool changing rooms and showers require upgrading.

The closure of the physio pool has been delayed until June so a solution can be found for the longer term. That solution will inevitably require some capital investment. But how much are we talking? Debbie Porteous finds out that is the million-dollar question.

There are, at this point, a lot of unknowns about the Otago Therapeutic Pool, known better to its many Dunedin users as the physio pool.

It is not known if a crack across its width at the deep end, present for at least three decades already and not apparently leaking, is sinister.

It is not known if the 70-year-old reinforced concrete building is earthquake prone or if its roof needs replaced.

It is not known if the ventilation system needs replaced or what could be done to the building to reduce the cost of running the pool.

These are some of the things the Otago Therapeutic Pool Trust, which runs the pool, needs to find out in the next six months.

It also needs to find out how much any problems would cost to fix and when they would need to be fixed by.

Then it needs to work out how it would pay for it, and probably raise that money before June 30, 2015.

What is known is that there has been no major maintenance or upgrades to the building since 2012 and the health board postponed annual maintenance over the past Christmas-New Year period because it was concerned the work would cause structural problems.

A preliminary assessment of the building the health board did in 2012 estimated about $1 million of work was needed, including replacing the pool's tiles and upgrading the changing rooms, to keep the pool safe and functioning.

Executive director of patient services Lexie O'Shea said she did not believe there would be a cheaper option than what the health board looked at and board chairman Joe Butterfield said this week he thought, from discussions with the trust and the council, the assumption was that if the figure required did turn out, after some due diligence, to be in the order of $1 million, ''then it's a goer''.

''That is certainly the positive attitude everyone has got.''

But trust secretary-treasurer Neville Martin hopes, naturally, it will be less.

The trust only had the health board's very preliminary report to go on at this stage and the trust was about to start an investigation of the areas that could require capital expenditure.

''Until we know what the reports say, we don't know really what we are wanting. It could be a million, it could be nothing. It's conjecture at this stage that it could be up to a million.''

The Dunedin City Council supports the pool remaining open, and has offered advice to the trust on what things need further investigation.

It has agreed to place a representative on the trust's board and is expected to confirm later this month an offer to the trust of a loan of up to $50,000 to get the due diligence started.

The trust will apply for grants to repay the loan.

Council aquatic services staff said they got the available information from the health board and the trust, but there were still ''considerable gaps'' in the information that required further information.

Aquatic services manager Paulien Leijnse identified about $330,000 capital that definitely needed to be spent, but said further professional investigation was needed of the crack, the integrity of the pool structure and slumping outside the pool building.

Both Mr Martin and Ms Leijnse say things may turn out to be not as bad as all that.

A crack in a pool, for example, did not necessarily indicate a problem, although it should be checked out.

That could only be done once the pool was empty and the tiles removed.

The seismic strength of the building needed to be assessed, but the Fraser Building (which is linked to the pool) had been assessed and was not at risk.

She said whatever costs were revealed, they could be expected in the next one to five years.

Happily, to those involved, the health board has already indicated it is open to discussing long-term lease arrangements with the trust post-June, should the pool be sustainable.

Discussions about how annual operating costs are covered would still need to be had, though Mr Martin has previously noted the board still intends to spend $46,000 a year on its Invercargill physio pool and should be willing to pay the same for its Dunedin facility.

Whatever money was needed to fix the pool, he said, it would need to be raised by June in order to minimise the trust's risk should it take on the pool in the longer term.


Why should we care?

The pool was planned in 1943 to be an integral part of the University of Otago's new School of Physiotherapy.

The first physiotherapy pool in New Zealand, it was opened in 1946 and from then on the pool, with its 35degC water was used for the treatment of patients with bone and joint injuries as well as for post-operative care and patients with mobility issues.

From 1983 the pool has been managed by the Otago Therapeutic Pool Trust, which also allowed for its use by members of the public for a small fee.

In 2004 the building was given a heritage listing as a category two historic place as one of the earliest examples of portal frame reinforced concrete construction. Today it is used by 40,000 people a year, from more than 20 organisations and the public.

It is used by patients of the hospital, private physiotherapy patients, people with disabilities, mobility issues, arthritis and heart conditions, Special Olympics athletes, Muslim women and the elderly.

Physiotherapists have been united in their concern about the pool's future, saying it has been instrumental in assisting individuals to recover after an injury.


The costs

Physio pool costs that could expected in the next one to five years.

Rough cost estimates available:

• Operating and maintenance costs: $140,000 a year.

• Running costs: $100,000 a year.

• Replace pool tiles: $200,000.

• Upgrade/insulate pipes: up to $25,000.

• Upgrade changing rooms: $100,000.

• Lifeguard accreditation: up to $10,000 a year.

• Upgrade chloride dosing: $7000.

• Investigating pool assets: up to $50,000.


Further investigation needed (no cost estimates yet):

• Long crack in concrete under tiling.

• Integrity of pool structure.

• Reported slumping along outside of pool.

• Upgrade/replace ventilation system.

• Roof needs major maintenance/replacing.

• Seismic strength.



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