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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Open by summer? Gungahlin Pool no longer snookered

The Gungahlin 50m swimming pool, closed for almost a year, could reopen by summer, Sports Minister Yvette Berry said in a committee meeting on Monday 1 March.

The ACT Government has reached a commercial settlement with the pool builder, ADCO Constructions, which has agreed to pay the government $400,000.

The government will pay the rest of the rectification costs itself. “We want to ensure that we’ve got it right, and that the pool is opened as quickly as possible,” Duncan Edghill, chief projects officer of Major Projects Canberra, the ACT Government’s infrastructure agency, said.

The government expects to engage a contractor in the next fortnight to repair the pool; rectification costs will be revealed once the contract is signed.

The construction company that the government has in mind has built other projects for the ACT government without concern, Mr Edghill said.

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The 50m swimming pool at the Gungahlin Leisure Centre was shut in March 2020 when the pandemic began. In June, while still closed, tiles began to fall out of the pool’s north face and floor.

Ms Berry acknowledged that the length of time and repairs needed had been “incredibly frustrating”.

At first, she said, the government expected a simple case of delamination: tiles falling off and needing to be regrouted or glued. “That wasn’t the case; it was much more complicated than that.”

Three technical expert organisations have investigated the pool, but it is still not apparent what caused the problems.

 “The experts aren’t able to pinpoint a single cause,” Mr Edghill said. “It may have been multiple factors working in conjunction.”

Suggested causes included the adhesive used to attach the tiles; the design and construction of the tiles; structural movement; and how long the concrete cured underneath the tiles.

With the reason why tiles have fallen off the pool a mystery, the government could not say this was ADCO’s fault.

“It’s a balancing act taking into account issues of causation,” Mr Edghill said.

The procurement panel, he noted, had found ADCO suitably qualified to construct the pool, based on previous works it had undertaken elsewhere. Swimming pools were “a reasonably unique sort of beast”, so issues with pools did not necessarily mean there were issues with other works ADCO had built.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what the issue is, so I’m a little reluctant to cast broader aspersions on the original constructor, but also because [the pool] is different to other assets,” Mr Edghill said.

Moreover, taking ADCO to court could have resulted in the pool being shut indefinitely, the ACT Government Solicitor had advised.

“The alternative was potentially going through protracted litigation and leaving the pool fallow so that experts on either side can get in there and argue about it,” Mr Edghill said. “That alternative’s not particularly palatable.”

Using a different contractor and tiling system would give the government “a degree of comfort that we’re doing the best that we can to manage the risk and not find ourselves in this position again,” Mr Edghill said.

The new contractor will strip back the tiling across the entire pool, sandblast the concrete, lay the tiles, and incrementally refill and reheat the pool, Mr Edghill said. If the pool is refilled too quickly, tiles and concrete can move at different rates, causing problems.

The government is considering compensation for pool members, such as free periods once the pool reopens.

Leanne Castley, Liberal MLA for Yerrabi, said the government had “bungled” the whole business.

“Not only are there serious concerns about the procurement process to build the pool, [but] the government’s mismanagement of the project at every step will slog Canberrans with a huge bill for Labor’s incompetence.”

Andrew Braddock, Greens MLA for Yerrabi, doubted the $400,000 would come anywhere near covering the full cost of fixing the pool.

“My concern is the government has cut a deal, in the interest of political expediency, with the construction company at fault,” he said.

Both politicians felt the government had been secretive.

“It is disappointing that it took an Estimates hearing to find out this information,” Mr Braddock said. “In future I would like to see the government being more open and transparent with the community.”

“It is clear from Minister Berry’s remarks we are no closer to finding out the truth about how much it will cost to fix the government’s mess or how many more years Gungahlin residents will be without their pool,” Ms Castley said.

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