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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Editorial Aug 11th 2023

Welcome to this week’s editorial, At the next Council meeting on Tuesday 15th of August 2023 a scathing report will be tabled on the financial situation with the Bay Pavilions. To quickly fill you in on how we arrived at the calamity that now presents I will rattle through some of the key milestones: In 2013, Council exhibited options for aquatic, preforming arts and community arts facilities at Hanging Rock. Council received 370 submissions from the community. Council voted to proceed with an amendment to the Hanging Rock Plan of Management to reflect Council’s endorsed concept plan for the site as adjusted for detailed survey and design. Stage 1 -Outdoor Sport Fields and Tennis Centre –realign sports fields to new configurations, new access and carparking and re-instate remote control car areas. New tennis courts, tennis club rooms, access and carparking. Stage 2 - New Indoor Aquatic Leisure Facilities –leisure pool, new program pool, spa and sauna, 25 metre pool, health and fitness, wellness/retail, multi-purpose/community rooms associated amenities and support facilities, village green and partial carparking. 4.Council consider funding for the completion of detailed architectural plans in the 2014/15 operations plan based on the tenders received to develop this project to a shovel ready state. Councillors voted unanimously for it, giving direction to then General Manager Catherine Dale to begin the process. It never happened. What we now understand is that there was another plan at foot—to buy the old Bowling Club site and bring the pool and facilities to the CBD. This plan became the basis of a pledge by a wanna-be mayor and, come hell or high water, he was hell bent in getting what he wanted. So the Council of the day sat on their hands over the Hanging Rock pool. A pool that had long been lobbied as a heated pool for our older community. Eventually the Old Bowling Club site became available to buy. Council paid $2.7m for it to the Catalina Country Club, releasing them of the annual loss of $600,000 they faced in having the failing facility. When Council bought the old club they invited the community to tour the facility and come forward with ideas of how it might be used. One suggestion was the hydrotherapy pool. After all the community already had a 50m next door and all they wanted was a hydrotherapy pool. Others suggested arts and exhibition spaces and cafes. Shortly after the tour and think tank Council announced the old bowling club building was unfit and would have to be demolished. Whether this was true or not, no one knows. “But gosh it was convenient”. To offset the substantial cost of demolition Council agreed to a long term lease of the site to the bridge builders on the condition they demolish and remove the building debris. We also see the arrival of a consultant given the task of designing a new facility for the site. As it turned out reports of the burgeoning cost blowout of the adjacent pool suggested that it would need to be replaced and, as such, that pool site should also be added to the mix. So we had two options. Have the theatre and community rooms on one side and build a new pool and hydro pool on the other. Or … build them both on the pool site. The budget to play with was $46.5m being a likely pork barrel by the federal Government in the lead up to an election of $25m followed by a very tainted $26.5m coming from the State Government that included $8m of proven pork barrelling. Each step of this cluster$%#@ was being reported on and published by The Beagle Along with the plans for the $46m facility came the recommendation that everything be moved onto the 50m pool site. It would save money and consolidate resourcing, according to the consultants report. Adding to the floor plan of the facility was a Business Case supporting the construction with revenue projections and costs. The community were asked to participate and a Committee was formed. In the end that committee collapsed when most realised that their role was purely token. The Beagle, along with others in the community, started to have a very close look at the flawed business case and so-called community consultation. Every time a shortcoming was identified it was clearly recorded and published. This made the council particularly angry. They closed ranks. What was meant to be open and transparent quickly became secretive. Council was doing it could to impair Freedom of Information requests. Details of these hurdles being presented were also published, and when eventually information was reluctantly released it started to reveal that the project was out of control, and that the few in charge in Council who were pulling the strings were way out of their depth. But they had come so far so they pressed on Unfortunately for the community the councillors of the day (bar three) , our elected watchdogs, ignored The Beagle articles even though they were sent directly to them by email to ensure they were formally informed. One of the councillors at the time even blocked these emails while another, who still remains a councillor today, has now embarrassingly followed suit. Around this time The Beagle, and anyone who raised questions about the project and its flawed business case, were deemed as nay-sayers and outcasts, with the Mayor of the day joining in to denigrate The Beagle and the reportage of the cluster*&^% by saying “The Beagle is a rag of a blog”. Fortunately three of the then nine councillors did offer challenge, only to be put down, victimised, ignored, threatened and then outvoted by their peers. Council was so paranoid at one point they pulled in all the Councillors phones and laptops to establish if there was a leak. This too was reported in The Beagle and the outcome of the inquisition only embarrassed the Inquisitors further. From this point the $46m project had blown out to $70m with $19m of ratepayers money added to the table. But at no point did the Council mention the Elephant in the Room. “Just how much will it cost to run the facility and how will that be paid for?” Imagine being gifted a brand new Rolls Royce. “Gosh, how lovely”. But soon after you realise the gift requires premium fuel, outrageous servicing costs and hugely expensive replacement spare parts such as tyres that cost an arm and a leg. That same scenario can be found with the Bay Pavilions. When the original $46m grants were “gifted” it was like “mana from heaven”. We could have a new facility for FREE !!!! But the truth is that even the business case of the day projected an annual loss of $1.9m (and that didn’t include depreciation). Now we are looking at $4.6m per year to feed our chubby little elephant. So how did we get here? By way of many adjectives. Deception, manipulation, failures in due process (some might even suggest mismanagement), failures by our councillors including laziness, gullibility, ineptitude, indifference and weakness. Add to that the political egos, each with an edifice complex that drove the project on its inevitable failure. In addition to the secrecy and the intentional withholding of information that would allow scrutiny, both to the public and even to Council’s own Audit committee, even Blind Freddy could sense that all was not as Ticketty Boo as was being put forward by those blinkered by the vision rather than the reality of burden. Those involved in this sorry tale should hang their heads in shame. The report to Council next week only reports on some of the elements that have lead to this financial burden. The report was not commissioned to point fingers at those who participated in what has become a total stuffup. The fact is that those who drove this sorry, but very predictable outcome stood proudly as the facility was officially opened knowing full well that sh*t would hit the fan if the figures were released. Of those there are some who remain who are yet to admit their part in the fiasco. Council at the time did its best to ensure the figures around the Pav were not clearly visible. That changed when a present day councillor requested the figures be revealed. While it would be agreed that these few responsible be walked naked down the street and have tomatoes cast at them, it wont happen. Why? Because those throwing the tomatoes would be the now outraged community who were warned, time and time again, by reports in The Beagle but failed to come forward and say “Stop!, All we ever wanted was a heated pool at Hanging Rock”. Most of the those involved in this cluster%*^# have scuttled off before a report was called for by the current term of Council. All but two of this term of councillors knew that any formal investigation of the project, from start to present, would give off the stench it has. One was the loud supporter from Day One whilst the other has continued from the outset to ask for more detail around the financial costs and ongoing maintenance, only to be rejected and ignored. The path to where we are now was delivered by the hand of many, and while some still remain, the loss of faith and trust by the community of those few is certainly diminished. If it was the private sector they would most likely be asked to step down. But again, they won’t. With the report of the losses comes the question “What now?”. It is clear the management model of the Pav is seriously flawed. There is no incentive for the current contractors to maximise returns and reduce the final burden to ratepayers. On a guaranteed fixed price all overruns are paid for by Council. They get the cake and we pay for the crumbs while going backwards $4.6m per year. From here on it is clear. The entire facility needs to be scrutinised and the current “no skin in the game” management model terminated. Then, given that the $4.6m per year burden belongs to each and all of us, paid for by our rates, we need to do our best to support the facility. How? That will be a question for this new council and hopefully they will be open and transparent about their plans, after having dealt with those who bought us to this point of having a $70m edifice bought to us by a toxic era of Council, best forgotten. Until next—lei


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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