Rejected: three pools left wondering why
FEARS FOR the future of three regional pools have rippled through communities after four tenders were rejected at a Southern Downs Regional Council meeting last week.
All applications for lease of the Stanthorpe, Allora and Killarney pools were turned back by Council on the grounds that none conformed with the requirements set out in the tender specifications.
But the current lessees were under the impression that non-conforming tenders would be accepted.
The debacle has sparked a wave of confusion and concern in the communities.
Stanthorpe Swimming Club president Shannon Armbruster said no one knows where they went wrong with the applications.
"We've been trying to talk to Council but we're not getting a lot of feedback," Ms Armbruster said.
"We're still trying to get to the bottom of why the applications were non-conforming."
Southern Down Regional Council Mayor Tracy Dobie said the non-conforming tenders could not be accepted unless a conforming tender was also submitted as a benchmark.
"This is an extremely unusual situation... we couldn't have anticipated that we would receive 100 per cent non-conforming tenders," Cr Dobie said.
Council said it will readvertise the tenders in early 2018 and work with applicants to rectify the issues.
But some believe the Council would like to see the three facilities managed and operated by larger organisations like the YMCA, which took over the lease of Warwick's WIRAC facility in 2014.
"My opinion is that they are trying to get big businesses to quote on the three pools," said Bill Lacey, who has been operating the Allora pool for 10 years.
Ms Armbruster believes this would be a tragedy.
"It needs to go to a community lessee with vested community interests," she said.
"We have a lot of evidence to suggest that big businesses taking over regional pools doesn't work.
"If you look at WIRAC their numbers are suffering and people are having to pay exorbitant fees for swimming and squad lessons."
Ms Armbuster said that hundreds of children would be at a loss if long-time operators of the Stanthorpe pool Gail and Michael Smail were to lose control of the lease.
"To many kids Gail is like a second mother," she said.
"She has put so many kids through swimming lessons, and we have top performing swimmers that go to state and national competitions.
"This wouldn't be the case if it weren't for Gail."
But Cr Dobie says that there is no favouritism from council.
"We can't be seen to be anti-competitive, so we need to put the pools up for tender," Cr Dobie said.
"If you look at the Sound Contracting Principles, one of the things we must take into consideration is to encourage local business.
"Pools are a commercial lease... so providing a conforming tender is standard business practice.
"There are some people here who are very emotional about this... the people who I have spoken to fear that someone who has not been involved with the pool will come in and take over the pool.
"I think that is taking a rather negative view and I would urge people to look at it from a positive perspective and encourage the existing lessees to submit a conforming tender."