Swim school boss testing the waters

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A Queenstown swimming school boss is petitioning for more access for independent learn-to-swim classes at the new $20-million Alpine Aqualand pool.

Jane Hughes, director of Wakatipu Swim School, claims commercial operators are being squeezed out of the state-of-the-art facility at the Events Centre.

Last year her business, along with another local swim school, Water Discovery, had an agreement with Aqualand operators Lakes Leisure to use the pool on a regular basis.

But Hughes says she was told last month her activities were being limited to a Sunday — so she’s pulled out of using the centre altogether.

As a result, she says parents are being forced to enrol their kids in Alpine Aqualand’s in-house swim school if they want to use the new pool — and this is “restricting choice for the community”.

Hughes will present a letter signed by “hundreds” of supporters to a Queenstown Lakes District Council finance committee meeting next Thursday and is also calling for a mass turnout of parents.

“I’ve been taking my classes at the pools at Queenstown Primary and Wakatipu High but understandably some people want to use Alpine Aqualand as it’s more convenient for them,” she says.

“This is not sour grapes. There is room for independent classes as well as the in-house ones. We need to go back to the council and say, ‘Hang on, this is a community pool and the community need to have a say in how it’s being used’.”

But Fiona McKissock, boss of Lakes Leisure, says access was reduced because of increased demand for the in-house classes.

“We had a two-term trial last year with the independent classes, but demand for the community swim school was exceeding the space we had available and we had to turn people away.

“This was because of the independent operators.

“The community was asking for more spots at peak times. Now there are 430 children enrolled with Aqualand’s learn-to-swim programme and a schools programme is also provided to Arrowtown Primary and St Joseph’s.”

She adds: “Everywhere else in the country the pool operator runs the swim school and surplus revenue goes to offset the high running costs of the pool and provide programmes for the community.”

Hughes also claims Alpine Aqualand is los­­­­ing “substantial” income by excluding independent swim schools and that the pool is not as busy as it should be.

McKissock disputes this. “We are getting about 13-15,000 people through the swimming pool every month, which is fantastic.”