Photo: Stuart Walmsley
The ACT's largest swim club believes lane-hire fees and strict policing of a ''shortfall'' charge if they don't meet a swimmers-per-lane criteria could threaten the viability of swim clubs at two of the territory's public pools.
For the past month, clubs at the government-owned Lakeside Leisure Centre in Tuggeranong and Canberra Olympic Pool have suffered strict enforcement of a previously rarely applied shortfall charge.
The charge applies if there are fewer than five swimmers in a 25-metre lane or 10 in a 50-metre lane, which the pools average for the hire period after a count each half-hour, then charge $2.90 for every swimmer short.
The pools are managed by The Club Group on behalf of the ACT government, and are home to clubs including the Tuggeranong Vikings, the largest swim club with 160 members, based at Lakeside.
''In the last couple of weeks … we've seen our bill go up from around the $600-$650 per week to $850 - that works out to be roughly [an additional] $10,000 per year,'' Vikings president Fiona Johnstone said.
They are trying to absorb the costs, but think it will likely mean an increase to their squad fees, now around $300 per quarter for the top swimmers, in addition to pool admission costs swimmers also pay.
Vikings head coach David Murphy fears it will limit the growth of the sport or force people out, as squad sessions become overcrowded to avoid shortfall charges.
''It is impractical to put an 11-year-old swimmer in the same lane as 13-18-year-old Australian age medallist,'' Mr Murphy said. ''There is no way a young swimmer can train at the pace of a mature swimmer.''
Clubs can hire two lanes at a not-for-profit rate of $1.80 per hour in Lakeside's more common 25-metre configuration, and $12 an hour for additional lanes.
They are increased prices from last year, but ones that The Club Group says are still low enough to potentially bring poor lane management by clubs without the shortfall fees, with lanes a limited resource.
''Lane hirers were not making efficient use of the lane space, which meant the public generally had to squeeze into two or three lanes,'' Harry Konstantinou, managing director of The Club Group, said.
''The aim of the shortfall is to provide fair and equitable access to the facilities not just for lane hirers but for the entire public.''
The Vikings say there are few swimmers using the public lanes at the Tuggeranong pool in the mornings anyway, making shortfall charges unjustified.
But Mr Konstantinou says that is due to the lane management issue not being properly addressed
''The public has known that there are no lanes available, they don't want to squash up so they don't bother coming at that time,'' he said.
''[They have] been trained that in the mornings and certain times in the evenings you can't get a lane, so they don't come.''
The ACT government approved the charges, and a spokesman for Sport and Recreation Services said discussions were under way to address the surcharge issue.