As news spread that Wollongong West Public School's swimming pool had been decommissioned, there was an outpouring of sadness from generations who learned to swim in the 62-year-old pool.
The primary school, with the support of the NSW Department of Education, decided to close the pool after an independent inspection of the facility, which had not been in use since March 2023.
The inspection commissioned by the department indicated the facility would unlikely meet industry requirements because of the "significant and ongoing maintenance issues".
"The reasons for this decision - including the significant costs that would be incurred by the school in upgrading and maintaining the pool, pool building and associated grounds - were conveyed to the lease operators of the facility in late 2022 and again in early 2023," a NSW Department of Education spokesperson said.
"The estimated cost to upgrade and maintain the pool, pool building, and grounds exceeded $750,000. Annual income to Wollongong West Public School to rent the facility was $6000."
The Mercury has also seen an email from the Department of Education which states the building has a roof leak and does not have adequate accessibility or lighting.
The swimming pool underwent renovations in July 2020 which included new pipes, pump, benches and office. School Infrastructure NSW also replaced roof sheeting, lighting and some bench seating in 2020.
Former student Mark Johnston remembers swimming in the pool in the '80s and said it would be a great shame and loss to the community if current students didn't have this benefit.
"As a former pupil of Wollongong West Primary School it is extremely disappointing to see the public lose this great asset, particularly when it was originally funded by local families in the 1960s and then improved in recent times by the private businesses that have run the swimming school," he said.
"We used it at lunch times in hot weather and you knew it was quite unique that a local primary school, a public school not a private school, had its own in-ground swimming pool."
The swimming pool was built in the 1960s after the headmaster was deeply concerned about the number of kids in the area who could not swim.
Kanahooka resident Phill Irvine said his father Allan Irvine was the president of the P&C when the fundraising started in 1957.
The first fete raised $1165 pounds which Mr Irvine said "in those days was unheard of". The community continued to raise money till it was opened in 1961.
"They had annual fetes...shiny penny days, whoever had the shiniest penny won a prize," Mr Irvine said.
The connection to the pool runs deeper for Mr Irvine, whose great-grandfather Michael Phillips owned the property before the school was built.
"At a time when the state and federal government is spending thousands if not millions of dollars in campaigns, trying to teach people to swim and teach them water safety, [for a] venue like this to be closed down, which is an ideal place to teach kids ... is just a tragedy," Mr Irvine said.
The closure of the pool has had a flow-on effect to other parts of the community, after the swim school operator at West Wollongong, EC Sportz, put in a bid to run lessons at Corrimal Pool when their pool shut down.
On October 12, the council announced EC Sportz Swim and Surf School had been successful in this bid, bumping out a long-running coach of Corrimal Swim Club.
The Mercury has sought comment from EC Sportz Swim and Surf School but did not receive a reply.
The Corrimal swim club has pledged to fight the council's decision on the licence.
EC Sportz, has posted to social media that they "look forward to working within the community supporting the local business, council lifeguards whilst keeping a high standard of professionalism in swimming, fitness, health and safety whilst having plenty of fun!" in 2024.
The push back from the community has resulted in Wollongong City Council undertaking an independent review of the tender process.
"Due to community interest in the quotation process, an independent review of the process regarding compliance with Council's procurement policies and procedures is underway," a Wollongong City Council spokesperson said.
Member for Wollongong Paul Scully said he is aware of the decision to decommission the pool because of its condition and significant maintenance costs incurred by the school.
"Swimming pools are not standard inclusions in public schools and faced with the choice between spending education funds on pool maintenance and improving educational outcomes I think most people would agree that educational outcomes should be the priority for spending in our public schools," Mr Scully said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.