5 February 2024

The reopening date for North Sydney Olympic Pool has blown out by another six months to early 2025, with the budgeted cost revised upwards to $85 million and likely to exceed $100 million.

North Sydney councillors next Monday will be asked to vote on a request from council managers to approve a $20 million loan to fund pool construction for the remainder of this financial year, taking the budgeted total from $65 million to $85 million to the end of this FY.

Problems with the structural steel roof framing over the 25m indoor pool have added to further delays, taking the construction completion date out to December this year or early next year. Mayor Zoe Baker said a range of this and other issues, most of which are apparently to remain confidential, would see the final cost blow out to $100 million.

“Design and construction issues have been encountered with the structural steel roof framing over the 25m indoor pool, resulting in the disassembly of this work. The structural steel had to be removed and could not be reused, which has caused delays,” the council report says. “The extent of this delay is currently being assessed and it is anticipated that this will be reported to the next meeting of the Council, however it is estimated the delay could extend completion of construction to late 2024/early 2025.”

The report also said that around 70 of 136 backlogged contract variations dating back to 2021 had now been negotiated: “While considerable progress has been made, a high quantum of variations and extensions of time remain to be agreed and both parties are working within the provisions of the contract to resolve these matters. These claims relate to cost and delay regarding design changes following the award of the construction tender.” 

Baker sought to distance herself from the delays and cost blowout, stating that she had previously opposed the project on ABC radio today.

“At the time, I voted more than 23 times against it,” Baker said. “And in fact, with Councillor MaryAnn Beregi, we, at the time of the Icon contracts, sought to rescind the decision and instead not to proceed with the project of that scale.”

“The market was telling the previous council that it was not a $63 million project because none of the tenders were conforming,” Baker continued. 

“It was always going to be a much higher (cost) project. And that was never really community consulted during that previous term of council. And unfortunately, this council, many of whom are first time councillors, they’ve been elected and, like me, are having to manage the fallout of some really rushed and poor planning from the get-go, are having to grapple with the long-term financial impacts.”

But the former mayor, Jilly Gibson, is critical of the current council’s oversight of the contracts, telling the Sun that decisions have been too slow and lacked urgency. “The pool construction was on time and budget when I stepped down as mayor and most of the delays have taken place in the last year,” she said, adding that she was surprised Mayor Baker used ABC radio instead of a councillor briefing to communicate the revised estimates.

The refurbishment of the pool was first approved by council in 2013. Two rounds of community consultation were conducted through 2014 and 2015 and in 2016, Brewster Hjorth Architects won the tender for design and management services. In 2019, the development application was placed on public show, and early the following year, an independent planner requested changes to the design on heritage grounds. Amended plans won planning approval by mid-2020 and final detailed design and tender documentation was completed in late 2020. A tender was awarded to Icon to construct the new complex and work began in March 2021.

 A change of numbers on council following elections late that year saw Baker replace Jilly Gibson as mayor in January 2022, two years ago.

The general manager of the council, Ken Gouldthorpe, who had been overseeing the project, quit the post in May 2022. He was replaced by Terese Manns in November.

The following April in 2023, Council received the results of an independent review by PriceWaterhouseCoopers it commissioned in October 2022, and in August, appointed external project management specialists APP Group to oversee the project.

The pool refurbishment was originally supposed to be complete for a Christmas 2022 re-opening and is now set to be at least two years overdue. Some of the work was delayed by COVID and unseasonal rains but this accounts for a small fraction of the sum total of the delays.

The original pool construction in 1936, also overseen by North Sydney Council at the time, was completed within a year according to contemporary reports.