Three in-ground pools would bite the dust under a Lake Macquarie council plan to reopen only part of Valentine Hydrotherapy Pools.
The future of the aquatic centre, which has been run by volunteers since 1965, is up for debate at next week's ordinary council meeting.
Staff have recommended terminating the lease of charity operator VHP Incorporated and assuming control of the facility to operate its hydrotherapy pool only.
The existing 25-metre, 15-metre and toddler's pools would be demolished.
Staff have suggested funding an enclosed 15-metre learn-to-swim pool, but the Newcastle Herald understands this would be above-ground and portable. The staff report prepared for the meeting makes no reference to whether the pool would be permanent or temporary.
The proposal would cost $3.2 million, including project works and future operating and deprecation costs.
The VHP Incorporated committee has been seeking a council takeover for the past two years, after it identified an inability to fund overdue maintenance.
Up until COVID-19 hit, the facility operated year-round with the non-hydrotherapy pools hosting swimming lessons, squad training, aqua-aerobics classes and disability groups.
The loss of the non-hydrotherapy pools would leave the city's east ward, from Gateshead to Catherine Hill Bay, without a year-round swim centre. Swansea is open in warmer months.
Staff maintain a position that the council is "providing adequate access to swim centres for its population".
However, internal council documents obtained by the Newcastle Herald show Valentine Hydrotherapy Pools has an existing catchment population of 35,060 people, which if compared with the council's existing six swim centres, is the third highest catchment behind only Charlestown (85,537) and Speers Point (61,492).
It also has a greater catchment population than Toronto (35,060) and Morisset (16,881) - two pools the council has previously taken over and kept running.
Toronto Swim Centre, which used to be privately owned, was purchased for $2 million in 2005 and required about $300,000 of immediate upgrades to meet standards.
The council then funded a refurbishment in 2018/19 worth almost $8 million.
Council meeting reports from 2005 show staff initially recommended the council decline the offer to enter into negotiations to acquire Toronto Swim Centre, which then general manager of strategy Tony Farrell labelled "not a good investment".
But councillors ultimately went against the staff recommendation and approved the $2 million purchase a few months later.
Morisset Swim Centre, which was a community-run facility similar to Valentine, was acquired in 2003.
Replacing the entire Valentine Hydrotherapy Pools complex would cost between $11.2 and $14.6 million, the council has estimated.
Former VHP Incorporated secretary John McGrath, who recently left the committee but drove negotiations with council, said building a new 25-metre pool would keep the facility "viable".
He said he had grave concerns the entire site would eventually be levelled.
"Were a new 25-metre pool to be constructed it would cost in the vicinity of $5 million," he said.
"This sum being less than half the amount spent on the acquisition, initial upgrade and redevelopment of Toronto [Swim Centre].
"Toronto servicing a lesser current and projected population than the actual primary draw area of Valentine."
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