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NEW FRIENDS FOR SPARKHILL POOL

20-08-2009

Sparkhill Baths

A public meeting on Tuesday heard about the structural problems which led to the closure of Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre and agreed to form a Friends group to help get it rebuilt. Steve Beauchampe was there.

A well-attended meeting about the future of Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre on Stratford Road agreed to the formation of a Friends of Sparkhill Pool group as a means of ensuring that local residents have a say in the design of the replacement facilities promised by Birmingham City Council.

The meeting, held at Sparkhill Social and Cultural Centre on Tuesday evening heard from Councillor Martin Mullaney, BCC Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, about the extent of the structural problems which forced the building’s closure in June, almost a year after the swimming pools were shut down after problems with asbestos surfaced.

Mullaney told the meeting that a surveyors report had uncovered cracks in the building’s steel frame which could lead to a roof collapse, while hydrochloric acid had also soaked into the concrete floor of the pool hall, causing it to expand and crack (increasingly common problems associated with swimming pools nationwide, essentially caused by the use of chloride).

A Council Cabinet meeting on September 27th is due to decide on a package of repair and building measures totalling £104m, to cover both the proposed new Olympic-standard swimming pool near the NIA in Ladywood and several of the city’s community pools, including Sparkhill.

Despite this, Mullaney conceded that it could be as late as 2012 before a rebuilt Sparkhill was opened, and in the meantime the Council were looking at installing a temporary replacement for the small Learner Pool in a nearby building.

Mullaney explained that a similar replacement for the main pool, which at 100ft is one of the longest in the city, was less likely given the difficulty of finding a vacant building in the locality that was both large enough to take a pool and changing rooms as well as capable of withstanding the weight of water and the effects of the chemicals currently used in swimming pools.

In the longer term Mullaney stated that the local authority was investigating alternatives to the use of chlorine, such as ozone cleaning, UV cleaning and chlorine di-oxide.

Helen Coulthard, a Sparkhill pool regular who called the meeting, stated that since the building’s closure 12 local schools had suspended their swimming programmes.

She added that there was a short window of opportunity - between the ages of around 6-12 - when most children learn to swim, and that the prolonged closure of Sparkhill meant that children in the area may miss this opportunity with the consequent negative effects on their fitness, health and leisure choices.

Mullaney told the meeting that as yet there were no definite plans on whether to demolish the entire building (which is Locally Listed Grade ‘B’) and replace it with a 25m facility along the lines of that proposed for Harborne (though Sparkhill’s smaller footprint may make that difficult) or to plump for partial demolition, retaining the building’s historic and popular features, including the brick frontage, central archway and rear chimney stack.

But with widespread acceptance that whatever course of action was taken, work needed to begin promptly, the meeting agreed to the formation of a Friends of Sparkhill Pool group, to give the local community a say in how the building would look and what facilities might be incorporated, as well as providing a long-term support group to promote swimming and fitness in the area.

The group meets next Monday at 7pm, again at the Sparkhill Social and Cultural Centre (located between the pool and library). For more details e-mail Helen Coulthard at hcoulthard@dmu.ac.uk or on 07753 687 767.

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