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North Sydney Council will appoint an independent consultant to investigate the $64 million-plus redevelopment of its historic harbourside pool after worsening cost blowouts and delays.
Mayor Zoe Baker received support from fellow councillors at a meeting on Monday night for an urgent inquiry into the council’s handling of the revamp of North Sydney Olympic Pool, which opened at Milsons Point in 1936.
The famous pool overlooking the harbour, originally due for completion in November, is not forecast to reopen until July at the earliest.
“The project is not meeting the projected timing and cost due to significant delays and variations under the building contract,” Baker said in a mayoral minute at a council meeting on Monday night.
The long-vaunted redevelopment has been hit with cost blowouts, delays, heritage concerns and outrage over $10 million in federal funding it received from a grants scheme targeting regional and remote areas.
Icon, the company that built the cracked Opal Tower in Sydney’s Olympic Park , is upgrading the indoor and outdoor pools, and building a new grandstand, children’s play area and expanded gym.
Work on the project started in March 2021.
Baker told the meeting her request for an urgent review of the governance structure and financial model for the project had been triggered by a confidential memorandum to councillors detailing “another significant variation” to the cost of the project on Monday morning.
“This is the biggest project this council has ever undertaken. There are significant issues with it,” Baker said.
“There are grave concerns from my perspective that we have to make certain we’re managing this so that it’s not a burden for the next generation.”
North Sydney Mayor Zoe Baker (left) pictured with fellow councillor MaryAnn Beregi, previously demanded greater transparency of the $64 million North Sydney Olympic Pool redevelopment.Credit:Nick Moir
Former mayor Jilly Gibson told the meeting it was “quite distressing” that Baker was “slapping this sort of big ticket item on us without any notice”.
She warned a review of the project could cost ratepayers more than $100,000. “There is no indication what the concerns [about the project] are, but we are being asked to spend vast amounts of ratepayers’ money to go on a witch-hunt,” Gibson said.
The council has blamed the delays on the COVID-19 pandemic, removal of hazardous materials including asbestos, wet weather and design changes due to the complex nature of the project.
Baker said the council was also expecting the cost of the project to rise beyond the $63.8 million approved by the council. She said the council would not speculate on projected timeframes or cost.
Gibson said a decision about the inquiry should be deferred until the council’s new general manager – former Randwick Council general manager Therese Manns – started in coming months.
Councillor Alanya Drummond, who is Gibson’s daughter, said the project had been “exceptionally well managed”, and agreed it would be “an extraordinary decision to launch an expensive retrospective investigation of a large financial process under an interim management structure”.
Councillor Ian Mutton told the meeting variations to the contract this year were “dramatically impacting” the cost of the redevelopment. Fellow councillor James Spenceley said a report into the council’s financial position would be useful for the incoming general manager.
“The variations are large. Many of them may not be significantly substantiated. As with all builders, you tend to get large ambit claims, negotiate and arrive somewhere.”
Baker said the independent inquiry would focus on the council and did not reflect on Icon.
The redevelopment of North Sydney’s Olympic Pool has been delayed by cost blowouts.Credit:Rhett Wyman
She said councillors who were elected last December had inherited the redevelopment from the previous council and were “legally bound under the building contract to deliver the project in this form whether we like it or not”.
“In my view, council is also morally obliged to deliver the project to an exceptionally high standard of construction and as quickly as practicable to ensure that pool users have access once again.”
Manns starts as the council’s general manager in November. She replaces Ken Gouldthorp, who resigned from the role in May.
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